Fabian Felipe Taborda had only been in the Colombia national women’s team job for two months when he steered the side to second place behind Brazil at the Women’s Copa America in Ecuador last September.
Las Cafeteras were doubly rewarded for that runners-up finish, winning a place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ and the only available CONMEBOL slot alongside hosts Brazil at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016.
Reflecting on his side’s achievement, Taborda said: “It’s a real boost for me personally and it’s brought a lot of joy to the people of Colombia. It’s rich reward for the hard work we’ve put in.”
In booking their tickets to the world finals and the Olympics, the Colombians certainly lived up to their nickname of Las chicas superpoderosas (The Supergirls). The only unbeaten side in the competition, they also boasted the best defensive record, having conceded a mere two goals.
Asked to explain the secret of their success, Taborda said: “Our team sticks together. We're a family. We play really good football and we like to keep hold of the ball. We've got the right approach to the game too.”
Colombia’s success is also down to their modest coach. Though still feeling his way into his new job, Taborda has been working with the national football association since 2012 and knows more than a thing or two about the women’s game. A genuine devotee of the sport, he set up a team in his home city of Palmira for a national tournament, the starting point for the creation of a whole grassroots structure.
He then took charge of the U-17 national women’s side, guiding them to back-to-back world finals at Azerbaijan 2012 and Costa Rica 2014. He completed his rise through the ranks in July last year, stepping up from assistant coaching duties to replace Ricardo Rozo as Colombia’s senior women’s team coach.
Getting results, changing mindsets
Taborda has a talented team at his disposal, a group of players who have put Colombian women’s football on the map. The heart of the squad have been together since 2008, when they won the South American U-17 Women’s Championship and took part in the inaugural world finals in the age group in New Zealand. It was there that the likes of Natalia Gaitan, the Ariza twins and Yoreli Rincon introduced themselves on the global scene.
Together they would secure a superb fourth place at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010, and then come of age at the senior world finals a year later and at London 2012, where Las Cafeteras made the toughest of Olympic debuts, drawn into the same group as eventual gold medallists USA, France, who came home fourth, and Korea DPR.
Not only have the high and lows of the last few years helped Colombia’s pioneering women footballers grow as people and players, they have also enabled them to change attitudes and win over detractors.
“There’s definitely a different mentality now,” explained Melissa Ortiz, who divides her time between patrolling the midfield and helping out in attack. “When I came into the team in 2011, I got messages on Facebook and Twitter telling me I shouldn’t be playing because I’m a woman, which really surprised me.
“These days I only get messages of support, some of them from men too, who are proud of the Supergirls.”
The silver medal won at last November’s Central American and Caribbean Games was yet another step in the right direction for Taborda’s richly talented side, even if they came up short against hosts Mexico in the final, a result that brought an end to an 11-game unbeaten run and added a little extra spice to their Canada 2015 opener against El Tri this June.
The upcoming world finals will offer a very good pointer as to the Supergirls’ medal hopes at Rio 2016, where they will look to take inspiration from their male compatriots’ historic run at Brazil 2014 and go where no other Colombian side has ventured before.