NIZNHY NOVGOROD, Russia, BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombia can count themselves unfortunate to exit the World Cup after a shootout defeat to England, but in truth they were never able to recreate the swagger of their pioneering 2014 side.
Four years ago in Brazil, Colombia romped to the quarter-finals for the first time on the back of four straight wins, salsa-dancing to celebrate their dozen goals and launching midfielder James Rodriguez on the road to global stardom.
Their 2018 campaign was a mixed affair. An early red card hampered their chances in a loss to Japan but they looked full of pace, ambition and invention in sweeping past Poland. They left it late to beat Senegal but it was enough to top the group.
They then pushed England all the way in Tuesday’s tempestuous 1-1 draw in Moscow, until Mateus Uribe and Carlos Bacca failed to find the target from the spot.
Yet with cool-headed playmaker Rodriguez, top scorer in 2014, absent through injury, they lacked poise against England, resorted to committing multiple fouls and constant complaining, and lacked accuracy with the ball.
“It’s a shame James couldn’t play,” said lawyer Daniel Guerrero, 39, watching the game on a big screen at a mall in Bogota, where once noisy crowds fell painfully silent as Eric Dier scored the decisive penalty at the Spartak Stadium.
“If they hadn’t stolen that goal we would be in the quarter finals,” he added, referring to the penalty awarded in normal time to England captain Harry Kane for manhandling in the box.
On social media, plenty of fans turned their ire on American referee Mark Geiger for the award of the penalty and six yellow cards for Colombia.
One mocking meme showed male officials at the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) headquarters distracted by images of Colombian women in the crowd, instead of watching the game.
Colombia’s devastated coach Jose Pekerman complained England tried to draw fouls but also acknowledged his team lacked poise in the final third, exemplified by forward Radamel Falcao, who huffed-and-puffed desperately with little impact.
They had nothing on target until injury time at the end of the first 90 minutes, and former England winger Chris Waddle called their 23 penalized fouls a “disgrace”.
“As soon as the ball was in the box, the players were not cool and composed. They were a bit afraid... But we’ve been brave, we’ve fought hard, we’ve never thrown in the towel.” Pekerman said, as players consoled each other in tears.
“We had great ambitions. This is very difficult to accept. We are feeling hurt.”
Colombia at least have the consolation of showcasing another star in the form of towering defender Yerry Mina, whose three goals including Tuesday’s 93rd minute equaliser against England earned him the nickname “Mina de Oro” or gold mine.
Their exuberant yellow-clad fans also put on an extraordinary show throughout the tournament, dancing with locals in fan zones and drowning out the English in Moscow.
“Goodbye Russia World Cup — with honour but without glory,” headlined leading Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.
Off the pitch, there was fallout from another headline.
England’s always-irreverent newspaper The Sun led its front page before the game with the banner “GO KANE!” under a list of Colombia’s most famous products — a none-too-subtle reference to the South American nation’s notorious cocaine trade.
“It’s rather sad they use such a festive and friendly environment as the World Cup to target a country and continue to stigmatise it with a completely unrelated issue,” Colombia’s ambassador Nestor Osorio responded, according to U.K. media.
Additional reporting by Steven Grattan in Bogota, Karolos Grohmann in Moscow; Editing by John O'Brien