One of the most successful coaches in the Brazilian game, Muricy Ramalho has a reputation for being an extremely avid football watcher. Invariably glued to the TV if there is a match on, he is one of those people who eats, sleeps and breathes the sport. There is a good chance he was watching Wednesday’s match between Colombia and Nigeria in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016, and if he was, he would no doubt have been intrigued and pleased to see the performance of a player who is well known round Sao Paulo way: Colombia’s Dorlan Pabon
The attacker played under Ramalho for a few months in 2014, when their paths crossed at Sao Paulo, one of the city’s three big clubs. At the time, the coach expressed his delight at having a player who could link up play and the test the defences of the Brazilian championship. Two years on from that association, Pabon was back in the city as one of the overage players in Colombia’s Rio 2016 squad, doing the kind of things expected of a player with so much talent at his disposal.
The 28-year-old Monterrey man had a big hand in Colombia’s 2-0 defeat of Nigeria, or big right foot rather. His was the raking pinpoint pass that allowed Teo Gutierrez to put the South Americans into the lead with only four minutes on the clock. And his was the pass that started the move that ended with a penalty being awarded to the Colombians in the second half, a penalty he coolly converted with that cultured foot of his. All in all, it made for quite a return to Sao Paulo for Pabon.
“It’s a little unusual and very nice to be back here now with the national team,” he told FIFA.com. “As a football player, you play in a lot of different cities in your career, and this is special. I didn’t spend a long time in Sao Paulo, but the fans showed me a lot of love. The good thing is my return went just how I’d wanted, just how I’d planned.”
This is the Colombian national team. We're representing our country and looking to make history.
His arms tightly folded as he tried to keep himself warm on a very chilly night at the Arena Corinthians, the Colombian joked: “It could be a little bit warmer, though, couldn’t it?” Pabon certainly brought some welcome heat to proceedings on the pitch, producing a display that ensured Colombia stayed alive in the competition and lighting up the game with the pinpoint pass that put his side on the road to victory.
To listen to the player describe his cultured assist, however, it seemed like the easiest ball in the world to play. “To be honest, I’d already seen Teo make his run before I’d even received the ball,” he said. “All I had to do was control it and hit it. Teo took it in his stride and finished like he always does: really well.”
The duo are two of the three over-age players in Carlos Restrepo’s squad. Following Colombia’s failure to take more than two points from their opening two games against Sweden and Japan – despite taking the lead in both matches – was it a question of the squad’s elder members stepping up to take charge?
Pabon did not quite see things that way: “The important thing is that we all take our responsibilities. I don’t think we can distinguish between the kids and the older players. This is the Colombian national team. We're representing our country and looking to make history.”
In contrast to the Africans' previous two opponents, Los Cafeteros were not unduly troubled by Nigeria, which was an indication also that the South Americans had learned some lessons. “Against Japan we went looking for a third, but we switched off at the back and let them equalise,” Pabon recalled. “This time we played a very tactical game. We scored the goals and made sure we didn’t concede. And we had the right attitude too.”
In finishing second in Group B, a point behind the Nigerians, Pabon and Colombia have extended their stay in Sao Paulo by a few days, and will now face hosts Brazil in the quarter-finals there on Saturday. Thus, in the lead-up to the game, Pabon may well have the chance to catch up with some of acquaintances he made in the city, while also continuing to acclimatise to the cold snap currently gripping the area. And with A Seleção providing the opposition, his old boss Ramalho is sure to be tuning in.