Colombia’s run to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup is an achievement built on self-belief and determination. In their maiden appearance in the tournament Las Cafeteras have defied expectations to reach a stage of the competition that only two other debutants have attained before: 2006 winners Korea DPR and 2004 runners-up China PR.
Two players who symbolise the courage and fighting spirit of the South Americans are the Ariza twins, Natalia and Tatiana. The elder by a mere five minutes, Natalia, forms one half of a central defensive partnership with team captain Natalia Gaitan, while Tatiana, the scorer of one of the goals that gave the Colombians victory over Sweden in the quarter-finals, has struck up a productive midfield partnership with Yorely Rincon.
“We’ve been disciplined in training, we’ve kept on working hard, and we’ve got our reward by qualifying for the World Cup and reaching the semi-finals,” says Tatiana, clearly proud of her side’s progress in Germany. “We’ve trained really hard on the pitch and in the gym to get here in good physical condition. We never had any doubts about our chances and, even though we were drawn in a tough group with Germany and France, we were able to pull through.”
“We know we haven’t achieved anything yet,” adds sister Natalia. “The game coming up against Nigeria is the most important one yet, and we’ll be using our style and technique on the ball to counter the speed and strength of the Africans. We’ve been able to get past some strong teams so far by playing the ball on the ground. We know we can produce some good football.”
Colombia’s performances to date have been a source of pleasure for Natalia: “Our parents have told us that people back home have really been getting behind the national team. They’re watching all the games and they’re supporting us like we’re the full national side. And now that we’ve reached the semis, I’m sure they’ll be rooting for us even more. On top of that a lot of the Colombian people who live here in Germany have been coming to watch us. They’ve kept cheering us on and we want them to feel proud of us and to remember us.”
Inseparable since the day they were born and currently playing for Liga Bogota, Natalia and Tatiana have always been there for each other, never more so than when the younger of the two underwent an operation for a heart murmur.
That togetherness has also come in useful during their football careers. “We’ve been side by side all our lives,” they say. “That’s a great support for us and having each other around is a big help. What counts in this team though is being part of a group.”
The two have achieved much with their country, being included in the teams that won the 2008 South American Women’s U-17 Championship, took part in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup New Zealand 2008, and finished runners-up in the continental U-20 championship.
The Ariza twins face many more exciting challenges in the future, not least their imminent footballing scholarships in the USA. Before that, however, comes a date with destiny against Nigeria on Thursday, one the siblings are looking forward to with relish as they seek to keep Colombia’s unlikely title charge on course.