Colombia enjoys magical World Cup run despite off-field issues

How Colombia reached their first Women's World Cup quarterfinal (1:33)

Joey Lynch recaps Colombia's 1-0 win over Jamaica in the round-of-16 of the Women's World Cup. (1:33)

SYDNEY, Australia -- As soon as the first notes of the "Himno Nacional de la Republica de Colombia" -- "Oh Gloria Inmarcesible" -- rang out at Stadium Australia on Sunday evening, you knew what type of night it was going to be. As one, the sea of canary-yellow shirts surrounding the pitch on all sides burst to life in cacophonous unity, belting out the ode to the independence of Cartagena from Spanish rule. On the pitch, the 11 players sent out by Colombia manager Nelson Abadía responded in kind, the emotions on their faces visible. Such was the vigour with which they sang their nation's anthem, one wondered if they might need a breather before they got to the actual task of the football.

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Throughout the 90 minutes that followed, the throng of Colombian fans that had followed their women across Australia did their best to lift them to one more victory, one more piece of history. Every time Colombia drove forward, they were greeted with a rising decibel level of excitement. When England attempted to answer with a sustained period of possession, it was met by a chorus of boos and jeers.

There is a power to this. In Colombia's 1-0 win over Jamaica the week prior, the players had looked to harness their supporters' voices to close out their win, pumping their arms in the direction of the stands in stoppages in play to stoke the noise and provide them with some intangible boost or advantage. Weeks prior, with vocal support at their back, as Las Cafeteras stunned Germany through an indescribable piece of skill from striker Linda Caicedo and a 97th-minute winner from Manuela Vanegas, a win that would ultimately prove pivotal in knocking the European finalists out in the group stages. As Abadía declared post-win over the Reggae Girlz, they were here to make history.

Alas, for those in the stands, there was to be no repeat of that magic on Sunday. Challenged by the South American side, Sarina Wiegman's England were able to find the answers they needed; overcoming a deficit for the first time all tournament and setting up a date with Australia on Wednesday. Colombia, on the balance of play, gave as good as they got. It can arguably be said that it was more their own defensive lapses than any kind of dominating play from England that saw them concede, and they ended the game with such a furious flurry of attacks that few would have been surprised if the game had been forced to extra time.

But it was not to be. Colombia are going home. South America -- and the Americas in general -- now have no more representatives left at the tournament.

Therein, however, perhaps lies the silver lining, the sign that this World Cup represents not a flash in the pan but the start -- or more accurately, the continuation -- of something special. The seeds are there for Colombia to make the 2023 World Cup the start of a new chapter, to begin to challenge the previously hegemonic dominance that Brazil has held over the tournament. They are there if the will exists to do what is needed.

It all starts of course, with Caicedo. After being named the player of the tournament at last year's Copa América Femenina, the 18-year-old, Real Madrid-bound sensation showed at this World Cup that she can serve as the bedrock for this team for years to come, already well on her way to being recognised as being one of the world's best players despite her age.

Caicedo, though, is one of a number of players rising through the ranks of Colombian football, serving as the shining light of the side that reached the quarterfinals of the U20 World Cup last year, as well as the U17 squad that reached the final of that World Cup. Defender Ana María Guzmán was another member of those squads and joined Caicedo in making her mark at this tournament, providing the assist for Catalina Usme's winning strike against Jamaica and coming on with her side chasing the game against England.

Abadía, respected for his ability to develop players, has spoken of knowing these players since they were 12 and, with the backing of the federation, guiding their progression into the senior team. Clearly, it's not only at the senior level where Colombia is making strides but at the youth level as well.

Also in 2022, Colombia pushed Brazil hard in the final of the Copa América Femenina at Bucaramanga's Estadio Alfonso López before fading late. But with the core of Abadía's squad now established and further battle-tested in Australia and set to be reinforced with the young talent coming through -- combined with the stumbles of Brazil, the retirement of Marta and the significant pressure on their coach Pia Sundhage -- the door appears ajar in their region.

But first, there are issues in their background that need to be addressed.

The problem of resourcing, as it is in so many countries around the world, has been a major topic in years past. Some of the team's most recognisable players had previously spoken out about abuses in the women's game in the country, with little seemingly resulting from it except their discontinued selection for national team duty.

Last year, the players were forced to protest over a lack of domestic football, to spur their federation that had declared, despite being set to host the Copa América Femenina, that there wasn't enough interest to justify running these competitions. Their performances and the work of sponsor-driven campaigns to drive interest pushed their federation into action, but their coach wants more in the future. The fans got on board to help demand change. And that will only rise in volume after these displays in Australia.

"It's going to change," Abadía said through a translator ahead of the England game. "It will change because what the national team is doing is one more warning that more is needed. Most have gone to Europe or Brazil, but locally they need to be more competitive and have 10 or 12 teams. Using 40 games from the year and that is important for the ones that come."