Colombia cruise into last four
Colombia qualified for the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Championship for the very first time after coasting to a 2-0 win against a lacklustre Costa Rica side in Helsinki on Saturday. Two super strikes from magical midfielder Jose Otalvaro settled a match the South Americans were always in control of. They will now meet either Brazil or USA in the last four in Tampere on Wednesday.
Playing on the Töölö grass for the first time, Costa Rica began stroking the ball about confidently though without penetrating. The two teams seemed to be cancelling each other out until Colombia, fresh from their 9-1 battering of hosts Finland, suddenly sparked into life.
It was Mexico-based midfielder Sebastian Hernandez who first led the Cafetero charge. The number 10 latched on to Carlos Hidalgo’s flicked header, swivelled inside the box before unleashing a goalbound shot that was blocked at the last for a corner (‘12).
Costa Rica hit back straight the way with the effervescent Josimar Arias getting to the byline and whipping in a dangerous centre that had Libis Arenas struggling before bravely fisting away at the feet of a host of vulture-like Costa Rican forwards (’13).
But it was Colombia, led by the exceptional Otalvaro, who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. First the left-sided midfielder cracked a Roberto Carlos-esque top spinner from fully 35 yards out that appeared to be swerving inside the post. Ticos keeper Daniel Cambronero pulled out a fine save at full stretch to tip it behind for a corner (‘14).
He was picking the ball out of his net minutes later though when Otalvaro, accepting a quick right-sided throw, brought the ball down on his right foot, turned onto his left and fired in a low skidding effort that picked up pace from the turf and left a late-diving Cambronero only managing to deflect the ball into his own net at the near post (1-0, ’25).
The South Americans were by now completely on top with Manuel Urena’s boys unable to string more than a couple of passes together. Tournament joint topscorer Hidalgo, who had been fairly quiet up to then, burst down the right flank and clipped in a dangerous centre that was totally miskicked. Otalvaro, who missed out on the goals against Finland, struck his second of the day and finals with a sweetly taken right footer into the far corner (2-0, ’43).
Costa Rica almost pulled a goal back with the first attack of the second half. Oscar Madriz found space down the right and hit a cross-come-shot that beat Arenas and also his crossbar by inches (’46).
ut, looking more relaxed on the familiar turf, Eduardo Lara’s team continued to have the better opportunities. Otalvaro should have killed off the game and at the same time grabbed his hat-trick, but the America de Cali man blasted over Gustavo Adrian Ramos’ deep cross when it seemed easier to score (’51).
“I saw it coming all the way and thought it would be my hat-trick but I must have been a bit too eager as I connected with the ball early and it flew over,” the player said after the match. “The important thing is that we won.”
Pablo Armero, who had been his usual busy self, somehow managed to get round the back, cut the ball dangerously across the goalmouth where a lurking Ramos shot wide (’61).
With the Ticos unable to repeat their impressive performances in the group stage, the game petered out in front of a disappointing crowd in Helsinki. It was left to the pockets of colourful Colombian fans to blow their trumpets and applaud at the final whistle.
“We have never come so far so it is wonderful for our country,” said Lara afterwards. “It was not as easy as it looked - the first 45 minutes were difficult. We wanted to get on top of them so they couldn’t get used to the pitch.”
Costa Rica coach Manuel Urena was generous in defeat.
“It was a fair result. We made mistakes and they scored at crucial moments in the first half. After that they controlled the game and kept us from building ours,” he said. “In Costa Rica a boy becomes a man when you are 18. At half-time I told them that we had to play like men and it was much better.”
With the Brazil versus USA match coming up on Sunday, there is little doubt who the Colombian players would prefer to meet in the semi-finals.
“Brazil are one of the best teams in the world and have some great players like Abuda,” said Hernandez. “We beat them in the South American championship 1-0 but I will be shouting for USA tomorrow.”