In football as in life, 532 minutes can be a long time; enough for a key decision to be made, a transfer to be concluded or even a coach to be fired and replaced. For the Colombian national team, however, this near nine-hour spell is the ongoing nightmare that represents the precise length of time since they last scored in the South American qualifiers for South Africa 2010.
The last time the Cafeteros turned away in celebration was on 14 June 2008, when Hugo Rodallega opened the scoring in the 1-1 draw with Peru in Lima. Yet since the Necaxa forward netted that left-foot strike from close range, Colombia have recorded two draws and three defeats without once getting on the scoresheet. After a steady start to the qualifying campaign, the team have now dropped to seventh in the ten-team group and replaced coach Jorge Pinto with Eduardo Lara.
"Goalscorers all have their moments. The goal will come," responded Lara in the face of constant probing from the media and fans. Worryingly for the new incumbent, this Cafetero goal-drought is beginning to look like more than just your typical bad patch. If you factor in the team's 1-0 friendly defeat against Ecuador in August, the barren spell runs to 622 minutes, and of the paltry four goals scored in their 10 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying games, only two came from open play.
‘Just a temporary thing'
Between them the two coaches have tried an array of different front-men, including Wason Renteria, Edixon Perea, Hugo Rodallega and Radamel Falcao Garcia, but all to no avail. "We haven't been able to find the route to goal, but goalscorers can have a spell like that. In addition, we have several key players out injured, like Falcao Garcia, who I think could be the solution to the problem when he returns," says Lara, who has not ruled out trying our more players up front.
Indeed, in Colombia's last outing against Brazil, the coach handed a debut appearance to 21-year-old Carlos Quintero, but the diminutive forward came up short in front of goal despite showing glimpses of his ability.
Given the plethora of goalscorers to have lined out for the Cafeteros over the years - who could forget Faustino Asprilla, Ivan Valenciano, Adolfo Valencia and Victor Hugo Aristizabal? - it is a cruel irony that a paucity of goals is now behind their current travails. And while looking to the past can often be an exercise in futility, another former international might just provide the solution in this case...
In need of an Angel?
Colombia's goalscoring problems have naturally been the topic of much discussion among the fans, a body of which are now calling for Juan Pablo Angel to be considered for a recall. The 33-year-old striker is scoring freely for New York Red Bulls and made the headlines recently after picking up the MLS Player of the Month award.
The former Atletico Nacional de Medellin, River Plate and Aston Villa marksman, who has been in the USA since April 2007, scored three goals and made a fourth in October to help his side into the Western Conference semi-finals of the MLS Cup. And last season he impressed sufficiently to be selected for the MLS All-Star team, picking up the Most Valuable Player of the Match award when the All-Stars took on Celtic.
"I always feel nostalgic when I watch the national team," said the player capped 33 times for his country. "The World Cup qualifiers are always tough, but I wouldn't say Colombia are out of the running - far from it. We have some very good young players, though we're perhaps lacking some more experienced ones. However, that's not to say I have to be included," he added.
For his part, Lara sounded receptive to the player's overtures, saying recently: "Juan Pablo is being considered the same as all the other players. How he's performing for his club will decide is he gets a recall." On the evidence of his current form, that chance could come sooner rather than later, but whether it coincides with the end of the country's long goal drought remains to be seen...