Colombia goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon becomes oldest player in World Cup history at 43
By Eric Freeman.
By Eric Freeman.
The group stage of the 2014 World Cup has been a tournament marked by budding stars like Brazil's Neymar and established performers in their primes such as Arjen Robben of the Netherlands. However, in one of the final two matches of Group C, 43-year-old Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon grabbed a very different sort of attention simply by appearing on the pitch at all.
In the 85th minute, with Colombia comfortably ahead 3-1 vs. Japan, manager Jose Pekerman subbed out starting goalkeeper David Ospina for Mondragon. The decision was not made for strategic purposes, but simply to allow Mondragon to achieve a new World Cup record as the oldest player in the history of the tournament. Mondragon, who turned 43 just this past Saturday, broke the record previously held by Cameroonian striker Roger Milla, who played a major role for his country in 1994 and even managed to score a goal at 42 years old.
Mondragon didn't play such a big part in Colombia's eventual 4-1 victory, making a sole save in a match that was already decided. For that matter, he doesn't figure to get into another game in this World Cup — he's the squad's third-choice keeper and isn't even affiliated with a club team at this moment.
Nevertheless, Mondragon achieved something truly memorable against Japan. With 56 career caps, he has not been a fixture in Colombian soccer. However, Mondragon (who played for the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer in 2011) is one of two Colombians to take part in five World Cup qualifying campaigns (midfielder Carlos Valderrama is the other) and is the only player in the world to feature in all six World Cup qualification processes dating back to the 1994 tournament. That also makes him Colombia's last remaining active connection to the nation's golden generation, which entered 1994 with huge expectations and saw great disappointment on the pitch followed by the tragic murder of defender Andres Escobar. The hugely entertaining and impressive 2014 squad represents Colombia's best group of players since 1994 and now has a chance to chase some of the demons of that tournament.
After the final whistle, Mondragon celebrated the moment and attempted to bring his young children down from the stands. Unfortunately, he was stopped from doing so by an official on the scene.
While that decision suggests some misplaced priorities, it's fair to say that nothing will stop Mondragon and his family from enjoying his achievement. His appearance wasn't necessarily a spectacular one, but it should go down as one of the coolest moments of the 2014 World Cup.
James Rodriguez is Colombia's Brightest Star
By Andy Brassell.
By Andy Brassell.
In a year speckled with deflating withdrawals from the 2014 World Cup due to injury, Radamel's Falcao's was perhaps the most disappointing.
When he was inadvertently hurt in a challenge with part-time footballer and teacher Soner Ertek in Monaco’s Coupe de France match with fourth-tier Chasselay back in January, football fans across the globe sighed at the injustice.
Seeing El Tigre in full flight is one of the game’s greatest pleasures at present.
Despite his motivation and faith to recover from his cruciate knee ligament injury in time for the tournament, it was little surprise when it was finally announced on June 9 that Colombia’s—and perhaps the world’s—greatest No. 9 wouldn’t make it.
Not only is Falcao a titan on the pitch—and he has been ever since he arrived in Europe with Porto in 2009—he is a class act off it.
When a bemused Ertek began to receive threats and abusive messages, Falcao took to his popular Twitter account to defend him.
Colombia, however, have already proved in this tournament of surprises that they are far more than their star striker plus 10 more. The thousands of Colombians who have followed their team across South America to cheer them on have another figure on whom to focus their adoration: James Rodriguez.
However much of a shame it might be that Falcao isn’t here—and actions such as the aforementioned tweet remind us what an asset he is to football on and off the pitch—the presence of James is beginning to tell us where the real epicentre of this team is.
Anybody who has followed his progress since he arrived in Europe as a teenager, a touch under four years ago, would not be surprised.
James took his time to become a Porto regular after arriving from Banfield, a fact at least partly due to the stellar quality of the Dragons’ squad at the time.
It quickly became clear he was indispensable, though. A hat-trick in the 2011 Taca de Portugal Final against Guimaraes—which rounded off Andre Villas-Boas’ treble-winning season—offered a window into just how important he would become.
In the wake of Hulk’s departure, that’s exactly what happened.
James operated on the right, but Porto’s traditional 4-3-3 system demanded that he develop his qualities as a No. 10 too—their wide attackers are always expected to drop inside and score goals. He did so increasingly in key encounters with Benfica and an eye-catching Champions League triumph against Paris Saint-Germain in October 2012.
When James made a €45 million move to Monaco last summer, his ability to handle the pressure was rarely in doubt.
Given the No. 10 role at the tip of Claudio Ranieri’s midfield diamond, he finished his debut campaign in a physical league as the leading assist provider. Defenders' attempts to intimidate him proved fruitless.
Having developed further under Ranieri, Colombia are feeling the benefit of James’ growth.
While we know plenty of players with wingers’ attributes employed in central areas—Spain and Manchester City's David Silva, for example—James can do both, employing speed and dribbling or picking passes and scoring goals. He covers all bases.
There is plenty to marvel over in Jose Pekerman’s side, with James’ nominal successor at the Estadio do Dragao, Juan Fernando Quintero, also getting on the scoresheet against the Ivorians with what turned out to be the winner.
However, it is their playmaker who knits it all together with the personality to win games and shoulder the responsibility of being the team’s go-to figure.
South American No. 10s have always been a huge part of World Cup history. Here and now, in the backyard of perhaps the greatest of them all, Neymar has a rival to the crown of this tournament’s central figure.
Long may James continue to thrill his country and neutrals alike.
Already praying to the old Gods and the new for the next match against Uruguay.