Hernan Dario Gomez burst onto the global footballing scene with the new millennium still in its infancy, the Colombian-born coach's refreshing brand of free-flowing, attacking football helping Ecuador reach their first-ever FIFA World Cup finals in style.
Five years on from that historic achievement, the 50-year-old strategist is determined to repeat the feat with new side Guatemala. El Bolillo took time out from his busy schedule to chat exclusively to FIFA.com about the current state of Colombian football, former side Ecuador's performances at Germany 2006, and his bid to take the Chapines to South Africa 2010. "My goals have not changed," revealed the well-respected strategist.
FIFA.com: What made you take the Guatemala job?
Hernan Dario Gomez: I've not accepted any offers for a while because I was always put up against three, four or even five other coaches. However, when the President of the (Guatemalan Football) Federation called me he said that he wasn't just looking for any old coach, he wanted me. That proved to me that he knows what he wants and is willing to go all out to get it. I signed a long-term contract and we've already started work.
At one point you were linked with the Colombian national team post. Was there any truth in the rumours?
Yes, I spoke to nearly all the executives (at the Colombian Football Federation), but I felt that Guatemala's offer was better for me - it was more clearly defined and more professional. Over in Colombia, they still haven't decided what they're really looking for and that makes things very difficult.
Prior to your appointment, Ecuador had never previously qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals. What other similarities are there between that situation and your new job with Guatemala?
Both countries speak the same language, I've been asked the same questions and the goal is the same. We came here without knowing what to expect and have encountered all kinds of people, from those who don't have any faith in this team to those who think that "El Bolillo will sort everything out". It feels like I've gone back in time and I'm living my early days with Ecuador all over again! We're up for the challenge, but it's scary too! (Laughs). Fortunately, (Ramon) Maradiaga did a great job.
You do not often see a coach heaping praise on his predecessor…
Yes, that's true. I know what usually happens (laughs again) but you have to be honest: Maradiaga did a first-class job and that makes everything much easier. He has left us a solid base upon which to build. From this point onwards, some players will inevitably leave the squad while others come in to replace them. That's why we're currently busy observing the players and carrying out the selection process.
Why do you think that the CONCACAF nations failed to shine at Germany 2006?
We lost out against the European sides. The teams that enjoyed most success at this World Cup were those with the highest degree of tactical discipline, especially in defensive areas. Why do you think (Zinedine) Zidane played so well in Germany? Because every time he lifted his head up he had (Frank) Ribery, (Florent) Malouda or (Thierry) Henry to link up with. When such talented players are moulded into a well-organised unit with plenty of passing options, it can really make the difference.
What did you make of Ecuador's performance?
They made history by qualifying for the next round, despite the regrettable decision not to take the game with Germany seriously. I'd say that they were happy just to have made it through to the last sixteen but they should have played differently against the Germans. They could have beaten England, but it wasn't to be. There wasn't much difference from what we achieved in 2002: back then we beat Croatia and this year the team beat Poland. The only difference is that we lost to Mexico and this time around Ecuador beat Costa Rica, who were clearly not one of the strongest sides in the competition.
Were you surprised not to see any South American teams in the semi-finals?
I was surprised that Paraguay failed to perform, given that they had a great coach in Anibal Ruiz. I also have the utmost respect for Carlos Parreira, Jose Pekerman and Luis Suarez, although the fact that Argentina and Brazil have so many star players must complicate matters: you feel pressured into playing them all at once and the side loses its balance. It can't be easy having Ronaldo, (Pablo) Aimar or (Lionel) Messi on the bench! As far as this side of the game was concerned, Ecuador were the most balanced team.
Let us talk about Colombia… What steps must they take to re-establish themselves as a powerful force in the world game?
Organisation and unity. There are some very good players and coaches in Colombia but everyone looks after their own interests. Nobody knows exactly what they are working towards; the national team has lost its identity. Anybody who goes to Argentina, Brazil or England knows exactly what name to put on their shirt: Tevez, Ronaldinho, or Beckham… but nobody in Colombia knows who the national team's captain or star striker is.
How do you break that cycle?
With hard work. I believe that Eduardo Lara is capable of giving Colombian football its identity back. He's a hard-working, professional coach who knows all about every level of the national team set-up. He could be the man to help Colombia back to the top.
There is still a long way to go, but are you aiming to take Guatemala to South Africa 2010?
Of course! I've already told the people here that I'd be quite happy to lose everything provided we reach the World Cup. By that I mean that I don't want to be bothered with the Gold Cup or any other competition, the only games that interest me are the qualifiers. It's rather like a five-set tennis match, we could lose the first two sets and still be in with a chance of winning the last three and achieving our goal.
Finally, where do you see yourself being in late 2007?
At the final game of qualifying, in front of a packed stadium with the whole of Guatemala behind us, and needing just one point to seal qualification. That's my dream.