Absent from the FIFA World Cup™ finals since France 1998, Colombia will have to make do with watching football’s showpiece tournament on television yet again. Los Cafeteros have come up short in the last three qualifying competitions, including finishing a point behind play-off qualifiers Uruguay in their bid to reach South Africa 2010.
In an effort to reverse the national team’s recent fortunes, the country’s footballing chiefs have turned to the man responsible for taking them to France 12 years ago: Hernan Dario Gomez.
'El Bolillo' (The Round One) returns to a team that has just risen five places in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to 34th, its highest placing since reaching 30th last October and its second-highest since climbing to 33rd in October 2008. Gomez knows exactly what is needed to improve Colombia’s standing, having taken them up to fourth back in December 1996, their all-time high.
Los Cafeteros briefly reclaimed that position in April and May 2002 but promptly fell into decline, dropping down to as low as 51st in February 2009. A major factor in that descent has been their failure to score goals in sufficient quantity. At one stage during the qualifying competition for South Africa 2010 the Colombians went 558 minutes without finding the back of the net, undermining an encouraging start to the campaign in which they collected ten out of the first 12 points available and jumped up to 17th position in the world ranking.
Reasons to believe again
The plans for Gomez’s return as coach, 12 years after his first spell ended, began to be laid as soon as the Colombian Football Association appointed Francisco Maturana as the technical director of its national teams. The two go back a long way, El Bolillo having been assistant coach to Maturana when Colombia qualified for Italy 1990 and USA 1994.
“During my 25 years in coaching I think I have acquired the necessary knowledge, work experience and career trajectory,” Gomez announced to the press before his appointment was made official.
Few in Colombia would argue with that appraisal. Following his first spell in the hotseat, the 54-year old was given the Ecuador job and steered Los Tricolores to their first FIFA World Cup finals at Korea/Japan 2002. He fared less successfully during a subsequent two-year stint in charge of Guatemala, failing to take them to the final six-team qualifying phase for South Africa 2010. Despite that setback, Gomez’s appointment was warmly welcomed by the vast majority of Colombia fans.
Their team finished a lowly seventh in the South American qualifying group despite boasting their third-best defensive record in the section, conceding only 18 goals in all. Their achilles heel was to be found up front. Only Venezuela with 11 scored fewer than their paltry haul of 14 goals.
Momentarily putting his new charges’ striking problems aside, Gomez issued a rallying cry to the nation, the first plank of his recovery plan: “I’m calling on the whole country to come together as one and for all the people of Colombia to give us their support. We have one common objective: to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.”