Colombia’s Teofilo Gutierrez could not have made a better start to his club career in Argentina. In his first season with Racing Club, the 26-year-old struck 11 goals to end the 2011 Clausura as joint-top scorer. And so pleased has he been with his time in Argentina so far that he has even painted his house in Barranquilla sky blue and white.
Now that the 2011 Copa America is up and running, however, Gutierrez has only one thing on his mind: scoring goals against La Albiceleste, who provide Colombia with their next opponents in Group A.
“If I had to choose one team I’d love to score against, it would be Argentina,” he told FIFA.com. “That would give me a place in history.”
That confession, made on the eve of their meeting in Santa Fe on Wednesday, might surprise some given the popularity he has built up in Argentina. Nevertheless, Gutierrez is confident his approval ratings will not be affected if he gets on the scoresheet against the tournament hosts: “People here like good players and I think some of the Racing fans are going to support me, even if it’s against Argentina.”
Following their unexpected draw against Bolivia, the hosts will be under some pressure against Colombia, who lead the section after beating Costa Rica 1-0 in their opening game.
Yet to hold down a first-team place under Cafetero coach Hernan Dario Gomez, Gutierrez said he and his team-mates are ready and waiting for Messi and Co: “They’ll have to perform really well if they want to beat us because we couldn’t be more prepared. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Colombia are going to be the surprise package of this Copa America.
“You’ve got to have confidence in yourself because no one’s going to give you any,” continued the Racing Club man, who came on for the last 20 minutes against Los Ticos, and lists Carlos Valderrama and Faustino Asprilla among his role models. “I try to be the best wherever I go, and I want to get a starting place in the team. Falcao is a great player and a very important one, and I hope I can play with him and improve with the national team.”
Opportunity knocks again
Gutierrez made his Colombia debut in the qualifying competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, scoring the second goal in a much-celebrated 2-0 defeat of Ecuador. A red card in the following game, a damaging 3-1 loss at home to Uruguay, seemed to have cut short his international career, however.
“I feared the worst after that match because I left the team in trouble when we were going all out for a qualifying place,” he explained. “Luckily, you always get a second chance in football and I’m getting mine now.”
Gutierrez’s second chance has come in a competition he dreamed of playing in as a boy: “I remember the 1999 tournament in Paraguay clearly, when Colombia played Argentina and [Martin] Palermo missed three penalties. He showed real character by taking all three and I’ve always admired him. He’s not the only Argentinian I like, though, and I remember watching [Juan Sebastian] Veron and [Juan Roman] Riquelme closely.”
The boy from Barranquilla will be putting his admiration for all things Albiceleste to one side in Santa Fe, especially with a quarter-final place in the offing for the Colombians if they can win: “They’ve got Messi, who’s the best in the world, but this is Colombia’s time. We’ve got young players, a coach who’s already been to the World Cup, and huge desire to get things right. Argentina had better be on their game, because we know what we want and we’re strong enough to get it.”