When Ivan Ramiro Cordoba talks, people listen. An established first-teamer at Inter Milan, he is an influential figure in a young Colombia side still in the hunt for a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. For the 33-year-old, however, this is not just another qualifying campaign, as it will most likely be the central defender’s last chance to dine at world football’s top table.
As he prepares to take the field this weekend against Chile, Cordoba spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about Colombia’s qualification chances, what the upcoming matches mean to him personally, and his promise to "keep battling until the last second of our final two games".
FIFA.com: Ivan, there are two qualifying matches left and Colombia are still fighting for a place in the finals. Can any comparisons be drawn between this and previous campaigns?
Ivan Cordoba: First of all, it is vital that we remain in contention this time. Comparing our current campaign with that of 2005, at the moment we’re in eighth position while back then were in sixth at the same stage. Last time round we were relying on one other result to go our way, but now it’s even more complicated as there are many permutations. We’ll see what happens.
I love Colombia and I'd like to go out on a high: I'm very proud of what I've done for my country.
What must the team do to avoid missing out like the last time?
We know that it’s not easy. I think that our most realistic objective is to aim for fifth to secure a place in the play-off. However, since our rivals are playing each other, we could even finish fourth if results go our way. The main thing is that we win our remaining matches and then see how our rivals have fared. We need to have the physical and mental strength to show that we want to go to South Africa.
You are one of the most experienced players in the squad. Is the future of Colombian football at stake?
I don’t even want to think about that now. Judgements like that are for after the game. At the moment I just want to do the Colombian fans and shirt proud by securing two wins. One thing is for sure: we’re still in the running and we’ll give our all to qualify.
Colombia have been very strong defensively but are still struggling up front. What do you make of this?
It’s true that our defence has been our strong point and that we need to improve in attack, but I must stress that we don’t set out to concentrate on defence. Football can be a funny game. In our next two games we could make up for it by scoring a hatful.
This could be your last chance to play at a FIFA World Cup. Is it fair to say that for you there is something more than qualification at stake?
I’m aware that these could be the last two games I ever play in a World Cup qualifying campaign, which is a great incentive to play with more passion than ever. I love Colombia and I’d like to go out on a high: I’m very proud of what I’ve done for my country. But in football you can never be sure of anything, and I’ve seen many players return to their national teams despite having announced their retirement. We’ll see what happens.
What can you tell us about Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile?
Like all teams coached by Bielsa, they play the same style home and away. Their forward line puts the opposition under a lot of pressure, which we’ll have to counter by retaining possession. We’ve got the quality to beat them, but they will be fighting hard to earn the point they need to ensure qualification.
For your final match you’ll be travelling to Paraguay, who have already qualified. Is that an advantage or disadvantage?
In theory it could be a slight advantage, but that’s not the case in reality because in a qualifying tournament as competitive as South America’s, nobody does anyone any favours. Paraguay will be going all out to beat us, but I'm confident that our motivation will be the difference between the two sides.
We'll keep battling until the last second of the last game - that I can promise you. We believe we can do it.
What message do you have for the Colombian fans?
We believe we can do it, they can have faith in us!
What would you give for six points from the two remaining games?
These are crucial games and I must admit that they hold a special allure for me. As I said before, I want to win and I’ll do everything in my power to do so.
Turning to other teams in the tournament, are you surprised to see what a struggle qualification has been for your Inter Milan team-mates Javier Zanetti and Diego Milito of Argentina?
To be honest, I’m more surprised that Zanetti was left out of the squad than I am about Argentina’s overall situation. They can still qualify, but I’m sorry to see that such a great captain and genuine person like Javier won’t be involved. He wanted to be in the thick of it, he’s not someone who disappears when the going gets tough. He’s a friend and a role model to me.
To finish up, could you complete the following: "On 15 October, I will be…"
... looking forward to the World Cup finals or the play-off! Competing against four other teams will be difficult, but we’ll keep battling until the last second of the last game – that I can promise you.