“Somos grandes! Muy grandes! Vamos Colombia!” (We’re great! Very great! Let’s go Colombia!). That cry could be heard loud and clear from the Colombia dressing room before their magnificent 4-1 win over France in Bogota on Saturday. Uttering it was not coach Eduardo Lara, however, or the team’s inspirational striker Luis Muriel, but captain and central defender Pedro Franco.
Already a Colombian first division player with Millonarios, Franco is sporting the armband that many believed would go to James Rodriguez, and showed with his passionate pre-match exhortation and committed performance on the pitch exactly why coach Lara made him his skipper.
“I’m very proud. It’s a wonderful responsibility that you have to know how to handle,” a jubilant Franco told FIFA.com immediately after the hosts’ emphatic victory at El Campin. “I’m very grateful to the technical staff and my team-mates for having given me this opportunity. I’m so proud to be the captain of this team.”
Although accustomed to playing at the Bogota fortress, the Cafetero captain will never forget the night he led out his team to start their FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 campaign.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this since I started my career. It was truly spectacular,” enthused Franco, an admirer of compatriot and fellow centre-half Mario Yepes. “I’m from Bogota and I know they’ve always given the national team a great welcome here, but the fans were absolutely amazing tonight. Just thinking about singing the national anthem in a setting like this gives me goose bumps. I feel more Colombian than ever.”
After 11 years with Millonarios, Franco has every reason to be satisfied at having fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a footballer. Yet despite breaking into the national set-up and skippering his country to victory over the French on home soil in a major tournament, he is refusing to get carried away by it all.
“It’s vital what we keep our feet on the ground,” said the centre-back, who hopes one day to run out for Manchester United, Chelsea or Barcelona. “I’m sure the fans are delighted but we have to stay calm. All we’ve done is win our first game, but we’ve got another final coming up on Tuesday.”
That “final” he refers to is their second Group A match, against Mali, who went down to Korea Republic in their tournament debut. “They’re a quick team with some very speedy players,” said Franco, sounding a note of caution. “The number 9 is very big [Kalifa Coulibaly] and we’ll need to be totally focused to counter the threat he poses in the air.”
If Franco and his team-mates can prevail in that aerial battle, they will go a long way to winning the match and taking a step further towards fulfilling his ambition of becoming the first Colombian to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
“We know there are not just 11 of us behind this team but a nation of 46 million Colombians,” he said before taking his leave. “The fans need to stay calm and relaxed and keep on supporting us. This team is going to give absolutely everything it has every time it goes out on the pitch.”
With Franco’s impassioned pre-match pleas ringing in his team-mates ears, the Cafetero faithful can be sure of that.