Only the beginning for confident Colombia

When the annals of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ are reviewed in the years to come Colombia’s name will be deservedly prominent following a watershed month in Canada. Colombia played with verve and rare fortitude in going toe-to-toe with women’s football superpower USA on Monday, with the Las Cafeteras’ rearguard breached only in the wake of the second-half dismissal of goalkeeper Catalina Perez.

Earlier in the tournament, Colombia achieved one of the all-time great Women’s World Cup upsets - possibly the greatest - with a 2-0 win over European style-queens France. Their epic win over France was the first by a South American nation – other than Brazil - at the Women’s World Cup. Inspirational skipper Natalia Gaitan described the result as one that “we will carry forever in our minds and in our hearts”. In just a single statement Gaitan expressed much about Colombia’s spirit. While women’s football has sometime struggled to maintain a foothold in South America, Colombia are a shining light which proves that organisation, hard work and sheer belief in the cause can go a long way.

Indeed Colombia are clearly here to stay as a valued participant at major tournaments. “I feel like we are leaving with more respect than when we arrived,” Perez told, speaking with unexpected maturity and composure for a 20-year-old, particularly one who had just been sent off on her Women’s World Cup debut. “We wanted to do more and we will aim to do that in four years time. We showed a lot of character and a lot of passion. I think we have inspired a lot of girls that maybe will be here in the future.”

I think that everyone in the world can see how much Colombia women’s football has improved.

If Perez is an illustration of the Colombian talent waiting in the wings then the future is indeed bright. Ostensibly the squad’s third-choice goalkeeper - given fellow shot-stoppers Sandra Sepulveda and Stefany Castano had already seen game-time at Canada 2015 - Perez stepped unblinkingly into the bright light of female football’s greatest stage. She made a stunning one-handed low save from Tobin Heath in the early stages, and again displayed cat-like reflexes to firstly deny Abby Wambach and then Alex Morgan.

Born in Colombia and raised in Florida, the University of Miami student had an atypical debut to say the least. After overcoming a torn knee ligament just in time for the tournament, Perez found herself playing against the stars she sees regularly Stateside, only to find herself just the second player dismissed on debut at this level.

“Playing in the World Cup was a dream I have had since I was a kid so now the dream had turned from fantasy to reality,” Perez said post-match basking in the warm afterglow of achieving a football ambition. “The past year has been filled with rehab and the World Cup was an inspiration to me every day.”

Future dreaming Now Colombia’s young side can turn their attention to future goals starting almost immediately with next month’s Pan-American Games and the 2016 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. “This is only the beginning,” said Gaitan with a mixture of self-belief and ambition. “You can expect big things from us.”

Coach Fabian Taborda also boasts an assured confidence about Colombia’s new-found status. “I think that everyone in the world can see how much Colombia women’s football has improved. These players have developed greatly throughout the past four years.

“In the future any team that has to play against Colombia will realise that it is a team that is complete, has maturity and a team with determination. The world saw that Colombia has made significant progress. The future is set to shine for us.”