football

Colombia hoping to find the next Rene Higuita, Carlos Valderrama or Tino Asprilla


Of that trio, Higuita was the most flamboyant and outrageous – and not just because of his famous “scorpion kick” clearance from Jamie Redknapp’s cross-shot at Wembley in 1995. Or for dribbling round Gary Lineker on Colombia’s first appearance at Wembley in a Rous Cup game back in 1988.

Higuita was years ahead of his time as a ‘sweeper-keeper’ and was regarded as a free-kick and penalty specialist as well as an acrobatic shot-stopper.

He saved four penalties and scored one himself in a shoot-out as Atletico Nacional became the first Colombian team to win the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the European Cup, in 1989.

But he marred his first and only appearance in a finals when he was caught in possession yards out of his penalty area by Cameroon’s Roger Milla, who raced away to score during Italia 90.

He missed the chance to redeem himself four years later in the USA because he had been jailed for receiving money after acting as the go-between in a kidnapping case involving two of Colombia’s most infamous drug barons.

Had he been in the States, the theory goes, Colombia might have lived up to pre-tournament expectations rather than crash out at the group stage.

Ten days after their return defender Andres Escobar – who had scored an own goal in their calamitous defeat to the USA – was murdered outside a Medellin night club.

They had arrived on the back of a 34-game unbeaten run, including a stunning 5-0 win over Argentina in Buenos Aires during the qualification campaign – the first time the Argentinians had lost a home World Cup qualifier.

Higuita was a key part of the team’s success. His ability with his feet and willingness to take responsibility for the final 40 yards made it possible for his team’s defence and midfield to push higher up the pitch.

But his ill-disciplined lifestyle took its toll and he had played his best football, unusually for a goalkeeper, by the time he was 25.

Like Higuita, Valderrama had an unforgettable hairstyle – which he still has to this day – but he was a stylish and creative midfielder who was the team’s heartbeat.

He was the first player to be carried off on a stretcher in a World Cup during Italia 90, only to cause great hilarity by running back on a few moments later.

He lasted at the top a lot longer than Higuita, playing in the World Cups in 1990, 94 and 98 before becoming one of the first great stars in the MLS.

Asprilla is best remembered for his controversial time at Newcastle in the mid-1990s. His mid-season arrival from Parma coincided with Kevin Keegan’s team throwing away a 12-point lead on Manchester United to lose the Premier League title race.

He had enormous natural talent, as evidenced by a memorable hat-trick against Barcelona in a European game at St James’ Park and the fact he won both the old Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup in two spells with Italian club Parma. But he was inconsistent and flew off the handle at regular intervals.

Like Higuita and Valderrama, he was one of football’s great entertainers and capable of moments of great inspiration.

Colombia can only pray that one of their current crop can produce something special in Moscow on Tuesday.



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