The final of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 on Saturday 20 August is set to have something of bitter-sweet taste for fans of Los Cafeteros. On the one hand, the whole country has relished the party atmosphere surrounding a genuine festival of football over the past three weeks. Yet on the other, the locals’ enthusiasm will surely be tempered by the host nation’s absence from the title decider, having been knocked out by Mexico in the quarter-finals.
One of those still reeling from that 3-1 reverse against El Tri is Colombia coach Eduardo Lara. Mere hours before Brazil and Portugal clash for the global crown at El Campin in Bogota, Lara spoke exclusively to FIFA.com on a range of issues including his overall verdict on the competition, Colombia’s performance and his analysis of the two finalists.
FIFA.com: There’s not long to go now. Do you think Brazil and Portugal are worthy finalists?
Eduardo Lara: Yes, definitely. I think that both Brazil and Portugal have had an excellent tournament and have shown they deserve to get this far. It’s hard to know what’ll happen on Saturday because finals are unpredictable, but let’s hope the teams put on a great show.
What’s your analysis of each of the finalists?
As they proved against Mexico, Brazil are a team with very dangerous players and are particularly strong when combining together in attack. The Portuguese still haven’t conceded any goals, which makes them dangerous opponents too. As a South American, I’d like the trophy to stay in this region, but both teams have shown they’re capable of being crowned champions.
Does it hurt not to be involved in the final?
Of course! I’d been looking forward to being there, that’s what we’d been working towards. And, as a football man, it hurts to be on the outside looking in for a decisive game like this. But we made mistakes against Mexico, they took full advantage and we have to be able to accept the defeat.
Do you think Colombia are as strong as the teams which reached the semi-finals?
Look, we went over to play in the Toulon Tournament and we beat France and Mexico and we drew with Portugal. I think we performed very well here too, but football’s like that – things like this happen. We just have to accept we’re out and congratulate those who are still involved.
What’s your verdict on the competition as a whole?
World Cups are unpredictable, you never know how they’re going to pan out. However, I think that all the national teams involved have picked up valuable experience and given a good account of themselves. This country has put on an excellent World Cup, and that’s something that must be highlighted.
Have you managed to put your side’s quarter-final exit behind you yet?
It hit me really hard, honestly. We’d been hoping to go a long way and we had a great set of fans who got behind us for every minute of every game. I’d say that yes, it was very painful for us all, but we have to stay strong ready to tackle what the future has in store for us.
After the game, you shouldered the responsibility for Colombia’s exit. Are you still willing to take all the blame?
I’ve been in this game for a lot of years and I’ve always had the same approach: when things go wrong, it’s me who should take responsibility. But of course, you can only do your job and tell the players what might happen out on the pitch. It’s you guys, the analysts, who have the luxury of being able to examine and comment on what happened during the match. These lads are still developing as players and it’s normal that they make mistakes. The most important thing is they learn from the experience so they don’t repeat the same mistakes for the senior side.
Do you have any message that you’d like to pass on to the Colombian fans?
The only thing I’d like to do is say how grateful we are to all the people in our country, who cheered us on and supported us all the way. Even now, wherever I go, people are very encouraging and say how pleased they are. We gave it everything we had but we didn’t achieve our objective. It’s a shame for everybody.
With the tournament drawing to a close, many people have wondered aloud about what your professional future holds. Do you have any news on that?
Let’s see what the directors have to say, but I’m not concerned and I’m ready for whatever happens. However things turn out, I’ll always be thankful to the Football Association, its President Luis Bedoya and the board of directors. I’ve been working here for nine years now and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s just a matter of waiting a short while and seeing what happens next.