Chile. 1962. My grandma told me this one. Colombia had qualified for their first world cup ever. We suited up in a now-defunct shade of blue to take on the USSR, back when they were good. We fought back from an early Soviet lead to tie 4-4. The first goal was a clumsy corner kick that bounced past the keeper. My grandma and her brothers said that was the first (and only) gol olímpico in World Cup history. I never bothered to fact-check them. Colombia lost the rest of their games.
Italy. 1990. “No hay derecho. no nos lo mereciamos” Germany goes up. 1-0. Clock ticks the fourty-third minute in the second half. “viene Colombia Dios mío ... gracias Dios mío" "Colombia escribe con letras de oro … el momento más importante de su historia.” Germany 1, Colombia 1. The clock hits 45'+3 during the celebration. “Hoy más que nunca nos sentimos orgullosos de ser Colombianos.” Colombia clumsily saves a point and qualifies as the second-best third-placed team.
Four days later, Colombia was sent home by Cameroon. Cameroon was knocked out by England, who completed the loser cycle by losing in the semi-final to Germany.
Estadio Monumental de Buenos Aires, Argentina. 1993. “Dia historico para [la] seleccion que tiene carisma calidad y seguridad absoluta para derrotar a los equipos más encopetados del mundo” “olvidense de lo demás pueden celebrar en Colombia.” Colombia scores the second of what would be five goals, on their way to breaking Argentina's undefeated streak at home.
Colombia secures a spot in the USA 94 World Cup. Eventually, Argentina secured a spot too, although both teams performed poorly. Colombia went out in the group stages and lived one of the most violent events in its history: the murder of defender Andrés Escobar over an own goal.
France. 1998. Colombia loses their last group stage game to England and yet again exits the tournament early. A young David Beckham asks our superstar Carlos Valderrama for his jersey. A sign of respect. A moment of recognition for Colombian talent on the world stage. To this day, we write articles and rewatch clips of the exchange. We celebrate the small victories, as France 98 marks the start of a sixteen-year-long absence from the World Cup.
I grew up in this sixteen-year-long absence, fonding over the pixelated clips. I kept a mental encyclopedia of numbers and names, crests printed on baggy jerseys, and other irrelevant results. Colombia never went very far, but they were always heroes and we were proud. Very proud. That's what the commentators shouted and what my parents and grandparents and uncles echoed as we rewatched the epics on YouTube decades later.
Then I had my own game.
Estadio Metropolitano de Barranquilla, Colombia. 2013. I had moved to Brazil by now. I watched the game on the TV that hung over our dining table. Colombia was hosting Chile, a traditionally excruciating rival. We were down 0-3, with a ticket to the World Cup slipping away once again. When we scored the first goal my dad didn't really celebrate.
In the seventy-sixth minute, a controversial penalty. 2-3. My dad puts his phone down and our eyes turn back to the screen. Eighty-fourth minute, a second penalty. 3-3. We're jumping. We're shouting into the quiet street. We ended the drought and got back into the World Cup.
I got to see the first game at the stadium – we beat Greece 3-0. This was Colombia's best performance. We got knocked out in a controversial game against the hosts, Brazil. My friends at school made fun of me for a few days.
As I wrote this, many other results embedded in our collective memory came to mind. Mostly losses and ties. But as the back of our jersey's collar suggests, we are united for one country. It would seem as though Colombians are bound to repeat the cycle of constant heartbreak and celebrating the small victories of our made-up heroes. But it is not a bind, it is a choice. Recently, a friend asked me what emotion I conveyed best in my drawings. I said “happiness.”
I think this is it.