Football / World Cup USA '94: Colombia find their rhythm too late in the day

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(First Edition)

COLOMBIA'S exasperating team left their supporters frustrated once again on Sunday when they produced some of the most entertaining football of the World Cup in the victory over Switzerland - after they had already been as good as eliminated from the competition.

The South Americans weaved and threaded their way through a Swiss defence, creating clear-cut chances almost at will on their way to a 2-0 win, prompting the question: Why couldn't they have done it earlier? Colombia were unrecognisable as they lost their first two matches, 3-1 to Romania and 2-1 to the United States.

Their only hope for a place in the second round was a United States win over Romania, which would have put them in third place in Group A and given them a chance of going through as one of the four third-placed teams. But an 18th-minute Romanian goal quickly put an end to any lingering Colombian hopes. Romania went on to win 1-0.

'I've spent hours and hours trying to work out what's gone wrong and, really, I can't put my finger on it,' Francisco Maturana, the coach, said. Maturana did give a clue to one of the possible motives for the failure of one of the pre-tournament favourites. Referring to the game against the Swiss, he said: 'Today, there was a complete absence of responsibility. There was not so much pressure on our team and they felt freer to go out and play.' Team sources also said morale suffered with death threats to the midfield player, Gabriel Gomez, and Maturana.

An anonymous group from Medellin sent a fax to the team hotel before the game with the United States telling Maturana to replace Gomez with Herman Gaviria. Both play for the Medellin club, Atletico Nacional. Maturana obliged.

'That really knocked the stuffing out of them,' Tony Correa, a Colombian federation official, said. 'Gomez had limitations, but he was a leader on the field.' Members of the Colombian team and press have been reluctant to discuss the background behind the threats.

Despite everything, the future looks bright for the Colombian game. Although Maturana and Carlos Valderrama, two of the mainstays in the last eight years, are both leaving - Valderrama announced he was retiring before the competition - much of the squad is young.

Harold Lozano, 22, produced enough in 20 minutes on the field on Sunday, including a goal, to suggest that he could take over Valderrama's mantle. Other players, such as Faustino Asprilla, Wilson Perez, Fredy Rincon and Adolfo Valencia are likely to be around for the next World Cup. 'Perhaps we weren't ready,' Maturana said. 'But there is plenty to build on.'

SWITZERLAND: Pascolo (Servette); Hottiger, Quentin, Herr, Geiger (all Sion), Bregy (Young Boys Berne), Sutter (Nuremberg), Ohrel (Servette), Sforza (Kaiserslautern), Knup (VfB Stuttgart), Chapuisat (Borussia Dortmund). Substitutes: Grassi (Servette) for Sutter, 81; Subiat (Lugano) for Knup, 81.

COLOMBIA: Cordoba (America Cali); Escobar, Herrera (both Nacional Medellin), Mendoza (Junior Barranquilla), Perez (America Cali), Gaviria (Nacional Medellin), Valderrama (Junior Barranquilla), Alvarez (America Cali), Rincon (Palmeiras), Valencia (Bayern Munich), Asprilla (Parma). Substitutes: Lozano (America Cali) for Gaviria, 77; De Avila (America Cali) for Valencia, 62.