The moment Colombia goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon walked on to the field as a substitute late in his country’s 4-1 thrashing of Japan in the Group C finale at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it was a signal to the world of just how thoroughly the Colombians had destroyed its group, and how menacing they might be in the elimination rounds.
Mondragon, who was a backup goalkeeper on the infamous Colombia team that crashed out of the 1994 World Cup and then became the starter in 1998, found himself coming on to the field with the match very much in hand in the 85th minute and his side up 3-1. It was nothing more than a cameo, and there’s no reason to think that Mondragon is going to play an important role in the Colombian team moving forward, barring an injury or red card.
However, it was a very similar to a quarterback coming on for his last hurrah or a veteran pitcher walking off after his final strikeout. Mondragon, now 43, is the oldest player ever to appear in the World Cup. Colombia had a chance to make the moment happen through wonderful attacking play that eventually saw them finish group play with nine goals from three matches, with just two conceded.
There are teams better than Colombia at this World Cup, but you could make the argument that only the Netherlands have played better overall through 270 minutes than the Colombians over these last 12 days or so.
Jackson Martinez was the offensive star for Colombia, scoring a pair of second-half goals to make it 3-1 after Japan equalized during first-half stoppage time, a potential momentum-stealing goal that could have crushed the Colombians. Instead, it motivated them, and the Japanese didn’t stand a chance.
Colombia, with Mondragon between the posts as the final whistle blared some 16 years after his last World Cup appearance, have seen their soccer fortunes reinvigorated after several dark years, rolling into the Round of 16 having collected all nine possible points.
Next up are Uruguay, a side that finished second in Group D after Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Italy, one that was marred by a potential biting incident from star forward Luis Suarez. If he is suspended, Colombia may well have what it takes to make to a quarterfinal matchup against either Brazil or Chile.
That would be some kind of CONMEBOL rivalry matchup with a semifinal berth on the line. Not even Mondragon could have ever imagined that.