Cartagena born and bred, chances are that rather than harbouring hopes of a career in professional football, the young Agustin Julio dreamt of making it big in baseball, the most popular sport in his hometown.
A rebel from an early age, however, Julio ultimately swam against the current and devoted himself to the sport in which he would eventually make his name. After many arduous seasons turning in consistently good performances for some of the country's leading outfits, he has finally earned his reward, becoming Colombia's first-choice keeper as they embark on their quest for a place at South Africa 2010. Not bad for a thirtysomething.
"It was just my luck to be playing at the same time as Rene Higuita, Farid Mondragon, Oscar Cordoba and Miguel Calero," a proud Julio tells FIFA.com. "I just waited patiently for my chance, though, and kept working hard. Now I've got the opportunity to show what I can do and hopefully fulfil my potential. It's never too late to realise your dreams."
The acid test came at the start of October when the Deportes Tolima custodian, who lists Iker Casillas as one of his favourite keepers, donned the gloves for two daunting international encounters: Colombia's opening South Africa 2010 qualifier against continental champions Brazil, and a testing trip to lofty La Paz to face Bolivia. And things turned out well for the new boy, who kept his goal intact in a pair of 0-0 draws, no easy task bearing in mind the opposition.
"Some people might say we dropped four points but I reckon they were two points won," says the man who has turned out for Independiente Santa Fe, Junior de Barranquilla and Once Caldas among others. "Colombia lost both their opening games in the last qualifying tournament, including a hammering in Bolivia. This time around we've picked up points other teams won't get. All them same, we've got a young side and we need to consolidate the squad so we can face the battles ahead."
'You need to be a bit mad'
Having waited patiently in the wings for so long, Julio has at least had the chance to learn from his predecessors in the job. "I've managed to acquire the sense of belonging and professionalism that the national team's goalkeepers have always shown," says the avid reader and movie fan. "I've picked up something from each of them: I admired Calero for his agility, Mondragon and Cordoba for their unfussy style, and there was Higuita with his craziness too. You need to be a bit mad to be a keeper."
Joking aside, Julio knows that he has a crucial role to play in a very young squad featuring a good number of players with little experience of the rough and tumble of international football. "My job is to bring a little discipline and set an example. When you pull on the jersey you've got the responsibility of representing your country. It's easy to go down the wrong roads in this game, but that's where people like me can come in by offering the right advice and getting the young guys to get their heads down and work."
Objective South Africa 2010
With two points already in the bank, Colombia will be hoping to add six more in their next two games, home encounters with Venezuela and Argentina. Julio, for one, is confident they can do just that. "The team is maturing fast in a tournament where you have to keep putting the results together. We want to make our own little piece of history by winning games and playing good football, and I reckon we can do it."
Family man Julio is particularly looking forward to the showdown with the Vinotinto, surprise winners over Ecuador in Quito. "It's sure to be a special game, as we've got a nice rivalry going. It'll be like a final and we'll try to defend our patch like we did against Brazil."
As for the visit of Argentina, our man between the posts is confident of a different outcome to their recent Copa America clash, but is still wary of the Albiceleste threat. "The teams have changed a little, but you can't deny the mastery of players like [Hernan] Crespo, [Lionel] Messi, [Carlos] Tevez and [Juan Roman] Riquelme. The altitude in Bogota could help us, though."
A couple of good results in those games will put Julio and Co well on course for a coveted place in the FIFA World Cup™ finals. "That's what we're all dreaming of, reaching the World Cup and, if possible, earning a move abroad. We haven't won anything yet, but we do know where we're going, and that helps."