The Colombia national football team, known as Selección de fútbol de Colombia in Spanish, represents Colombia in men’s international football and is overseen by the Colombian Football Federation, the governing body for football in the country. They are a member of CONMEBOL and currently hold the 14th position in the FIFA World Rankings.

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The team is affectionately call Los Cafeteros due to Colombia’s significant coffee production. For many Colombians worldwide, the national team serves as a symbol of nationalism, pride, and passion. Colombia boasts a fervent fan base, and the team’s celebratory dances during goal moments hold great symbolic value.

Over the years, the Colombian team has participated in six FIFA World Cup tournaments: in 1962, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2014, and 2018. Their standout performance came in the 2014 edition hosted in Brazil, where they reached the quarter-finals, securing a fifth-place finish in the final standings.

One of their most significant international accomplishments was winning the Copa América in 2001, which they hosted. During this tournament, Colombia set a remarkable record by winning every match without conceding a single goal. Additionally, they have been runners-up in 1975 and claimed third place five times: in 1987, 1993, 1995, 2016, and 2021. In the Bolivarian Games, Colombia secured the gold medal in 1951 and silver medals in 1961, 1973, and 1981.

History of the Colombia National Football Team

The history of football in Colombia is a subject of debate among many historians, with most agreeing that the Caribbean Region was where the sport initially took root. It’s widely believed that its origins trace back to 1900 when English railway engineers from The Colombia Railways Company introduced the game. However, it wasn’t until 1924 that the Colombian Football Federation was established, initially named Liga de Fútbol, and it gained affiliation with FIFA and CONMEBOL in 1936.

Colombia played its inaugural international match on 17 February 1926 against Costa Rica at the Julio Torres Stadium in Barranquilla, securing a 4–1 victory against their Central American opponents. In 1937, Colombia formed a national team for the Juegos del IV Centenario de Cali (Games of the IV Centenary of Cali), playing four matches at the recently inaugurated Estadio Olímpico Pascual Guerrero against Mexico (3–1), Argentina (1–3), Ecuador (5–0), and Cuba (1–3).

Despite becoming a FIFA member in 1936, Colombia opted out of the 1938 World Cup in France, instead competing in the 1938 Central American and Caribbean Games. The national team, primarily composed of players from Club Juventud Bogotana (now Millonarios), was managed by Alfonso Novoa until February 23. Their first match on February 10, 1938, against Mexico, ended in a 1–3 defeat, with Luis Argüelles, Luis de la Fuente, and Horacio Casarín scoring for Mexico and Marcos Mejía for Colombia. Despite this setback, Colombia managed to secure the bronze medal, tallying two wins and three losses. That same year, Colombia participated in the I Bolivarian Games in Bogotá, finishing fourth with one win and three losses. Fernando Paternoster served as Colombia’s manager, marking the team’s first experience under a foreign manager.

Colombia’s Debut at the 1945 South American Championship

Colombia made its return to international football in 1945, marking its debut at the South American Championship. The team finished in fifth place in the tournament. The squad primarily comprised players from Junior de Barranquilla, with exceptions like Antonio de la Hoz (Sporting de Barranquilla) and Pedro Ricardo López (Boca Juniors de Cali). Roberto Meléndez served as both player and coach for Colombia throughout the championship. Despite this promising debut, Colombia withdrew from the 1946 edition of the tournament.

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Instead, they opted to compete at the 1946 Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, where they clinched the gold medal by winning all six matches, scoring 20 goals while conceding 7. The Peruvian José Arana Cruz managed Colombia during this period. In 1947, Colombia returned to the South American Championship in Ecuador, but the team struggled, finishing in 8th place and recording only two draws against Ecuador and Bolivia, along with five defeats, while scoring just 2 goals.

Carlos Arango and Rafael Granados were the only goal scorers for Colombia during the tournament. Lino Taioli, the Argentine manager, was dismissed from his position immediately after the tournament concluded. Colombia’s entry into the professional era of football began with their first match on 6 April 1949, in the South American Championship, where they suffered a 3–0 defeat against Paraguay. Friedrich Donenfeld, an Austrian coach who had relocated to Colombia with his family due to World War II, managed the team during this tournament.

Colombia’s Journey at the FIFA World Cup

Colombia has participated in the FIFA World Cup on six occasions: in 1962, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2014, and 2018. In the 1962 tournament held in Chile, Colombia faced a tough start, losing 2–1 to South American champions Uruguay in their opening match. They then produced a memorable performance, drawing 4–4 with the reigning European champions, the Soviet Union.

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This match included a historic moment when Colombia scored four goals against the legendary Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin, with Marcos Coll scoring the only Olympic goal in World Cup history. Despite staging a remarkable comeback from three goals down to secure the draw, Colombia’s campaign ended with a 5–0 defeat to Yugoslavia in the group stage, resulting in their elimination.

During the Round of Sixteen match against Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup, the game remained goalless after regular time and went into extra time. In a notable turn of events, Colombian goalkeeper René Higuita made a critical error when he ventured far from his goal line and was dispossess by Cameroon striker Roger Milla. Milla struck twice in extra time, giving Cameroon a 2–0 lead.

Atlético Junior, his first coaching assignment in Colombia, represented the national team, making Donenfeld the first European manager of the Colombia national team. Despite high hopes, Colombia finished in eighth place once again. Colombia opted out of the qualification process for the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and also withdrew from the South American Championship in 1953.

Colombia at the 1994 FIFA World Cup

At the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Colombia topped their qualifying group without a single loss, culminating in a historic 5–0 victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires. With such impressive form, expectations soared, with some even considering them favourites to win the tournament.

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Their first group stage match was against Romania, and it didn’t go as planned. Romania took an early lead in the 16th minute when Raducioiu skillfully navigated past three defenders to slot home a low shot. Hagi doubled Romania’s lead on the half-hour mark with a well-placed cross that caught Córdoba off-guard. Despite Valencia pulling one back for Colombia just before halftime with a header from a corner by Perez, Raducioiu sealed the victory for Romania with another goal late in the match.

Heading into their second group game against the United States, Colombia knew they had to secure a win to keep their hopes alive. However, disaster struck when Andrés Escobar accidentally deflected a cross into his own net in the 35th minute, giving the US a two-goal lead. Earnie Stewart extended the US lead with a goal in the 56th minute.

Valencia managed to score a consolation goal for Colombia in the closing minutes, but it wasn’t enough to salvage the match. Colombia did manage to secure a 2–0 victory over Switzerland in their final group match, but unfortunately, it wasn’t sufficient to see them through to the next round.

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