- Mondragon was ready to retire when he received an unexpected call
- He went an unprecedented 16 years between World Cup appearances
- The goalkeeper broke a Roger Milla record
Faryd Mondragon was on the verge of hanging up his gloves for good in 2012. Having turned 41 and enjoyed a successful career, he felt the time was coming to call it a day. It was then, in August that year, that he received an unexpected call-up from Colombia coach Jose Pekerman. Suddenly, all thoughts of retirement vanished from his mind, with the incentive of appearing at another FIFA World Cup™ materialising before him.
He duly made that world finals appearance and set a new record in the process. In running out at Brazil 2014, Mondragon become the oldest person ever to play at the World Cup. Not content with that achievement, he also set two other records in Brazil.
Having planned to play another season for MLS side Philadelphia Union and then retire from the game, Mondragon moved back to Deportivo Cali in 2012 to lend a helping hand to the club where he began his career.
His return to Colombia came in the 22nd year of a career in which he had distinguished himself all the over the world, having spent 17 years away in Argentina, Spain, France, Turkey, Germany and the USA.
Thoughts of a return to the national side could not have been further from his mind. Though still a very capable performer between the posts, he knew that time was against him, with his first World Cup, when he was an understudy to Oscar Cordoba at USA 1994, and his second, as his country's first-choice keeper at France 1998, just distant memories.
It was in France that he was involved in one of the most moving moments of the group phase, when he broke down in tears following a 2-0 defeat to England that left Colombia out of the competition. Mondragon turned in such an impressive display that his opposite number, David Seaman, was moved to cross the entire pitch to console him.
That call from the blue from Pekerman changed everything, however. “He told me that Ospina was his first choice, but that the qualifiers were long and that he needed people with experience,” recalled the custodian. “I told him I’d be delighted to go. It was like I’d been reborn, like a burst of oxygen that gave me another life.”
Though Mondragon did not see any action in the qualifying competition, his place in the squad for Brazil was assured, prompting some to start speculating about the records he might break when he got there. “You don’t go to World Cups to break records,” he said. “If I hadn’t been at the right level so that I could be ready if they needed me, then I wouldn’t have gone.”
Just by appearing in the final 23-man squad, Mondragon broke not one but two records. The 16-year gap between his appearances at France 1998 and Brazil 2014 was the longest in World Cup history, surpassing the 12 years registered by Switzerland’s Alfred Bickel between France 1938 and Brazil 1950.
Secondly, the 20-year gap between his first and last World Cups was also a tournament record, taking him past Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal, Germany’s Lothar Matthaus, Italy’s Giuseppe Bergomi and Cameroon’s Rigobert Song, whose world finals careers each spanned 16 years.
A third mark then came Mondragon’s way on 24 June 2014, when he earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records by becoming the oldest person to play in the competition, coming on for Ospina in the 85th minute of Colombia’s final group match, a 4-1 defeat of Japan.
At the age of 43 years and three days, Mondragon took the record from Roger Milla of Cameroon, who ran out at USA 1994 aged 42 years and 39 days. It would be the final match of the keeper’s long and illustrious professional career.
“As soon as we scored the third goal, Pekerman said to me: ‘Come on! You’re going on!’ So I put my gear and gloves on. I was so excited and the adrenaline took hold of me.
“I wasn’t expecting the chants of 'Faryd, Faryd' from the stands. It was really nice, because it’s very exciting for me to experience things like that at the end of my career.
“It’s not a record for Faryd Mondragon but for Colombian football and the country as a whole. I’m very honoured to hold a record like this on behalf of Colombia.”