Women’s football in Colombia is currently enjoying the finest period of its relatively short history, with the past five years witnessing Las Cafeteras breaking their FIFA competition duck to become regulars on the global scene. They have firmly established themselves as a force in South America, though regional superpowers Brazil do still lead the way, and Colombia’s next major challenge is to compete at their first ever Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, held in London from 25 July to 9 August this year.
“Taking part in the Olympic Tournament for the first time brings with it an enormous amount of responsibility for those of us on the coaching staff, as well as for the players and the management,” Colombia boss Ricardo Rozo told FIFA.com.
“We’re doing everything in our power to prepare well enough to send out a side that does us justice. We’re still not feeling the nerves that come before such an important tournament, instead we’re simply focusing on being able to compete on equal footing.”
Though Colombia’s debut at a FIFA women’s showpiece came back in 2008, with his predecessor Pedro Rodriguez taking charge of Las Cafeteras at that year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, Rozo has had a highly positive impact since his appointment in 2010. “It’s true that, since we came in, we’ve finished fourth at a U-20 World Cup, appeared at a senior World Cup and have just qualified for the next U-17 World Cup,” said the 50-year-old strategist.
“But it’s all part of a process that started years ago with that team that was crowned South American champions [in 2008]. It’s a positive thing to be going to the Olympics, because it gives more continuity to our project.”
Competition for places
As he continues to prepare his side for their London 2012 adventure, said desire for continuity is also set to be reflected in Rozo’s squad selection. “The core of the squad will be pretty similar to the one that went to the senior World Cup last year, although you have to bear in mind we can only take 18 players instead of 21. I reckon there’ll be three or four changes, but no more than that.”
Intriguingly, Rozo has not been able to work with his charges since late October 2011, when he guided Colombia to fourth spot at the Panamerican Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. “The idea was to give the girls the time and space they needed to continue their development with their clubs, which are involved in domestic action, or at their universities – given we’ve got players studying and playing in the United States. They’ll all start arriving in the first week of May and we’ll start our training camp after that. Our planning’s all in place, we’re just missing the players!”
In the respected coach’s view, one of the key elements of this pre-tournament planning and preparatory period will involve friendly action against top teams from outside South America. “There’s only one really strong team here, which is Brazil, which is why it’ll be important to test ourselves against opponents from North America, such as USA or Canada, and Europe,” explained Rozo.
“Both those regions have very physical players, who play in very strong leagues. That’s why we’ve been trying to organise international friendlies that’ll help us hit form in time for the competition.”
Another crucial aspect of readying his players for the rigours of an elite tournament will be their level of mental preparation, with distractions aplenty sure to arise once the squad touches down on British soil. “That’s only natural as it’s going to be an incredible experience for the players, who’ll be rubbing shoulders with athletes from across the world,” said Rozo.
“They just have to understand that they need to stay focused and concentrate on what we’re there to do, because they’re representing their country,” he continued. “Our experiences at the Panamerican Games will help, although of course this is going to have a whole extra dimension. We’ll work hard to make sure nothing affects the group bond and dynamic.”
Not the kind of coach to leave anything to chance, Bogota-born Rozo has already set his side’s objectives for the Olympic showpiece. “We’re aiming for a medal, but we still don’t know what the competition has in store for us, since we don’t even know who’s in our group yet. At the very least, we want to make it through to the knockout stages. That’d be very good for us.
“Everything we’ve achieved up to now has come about because we’ve dreamed of doing it,” continued Rozo, as the conversation drew to a close. “We know we’ve not gone to any competition to make up the numbers and we won’t be making an exception this time. Winning a medal would be another important landmark for women’s football in Colombia. Besides, there’s no law against dreaming yet, is there?”