When taking an overall look at the 25-year history of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, it is noticeable that the impact made by Spanish-speaking nations could certainly have been greater. Yet though said countries have, in many cases, been late in climbing aboard the women’s football train, in recent years they have been working hard to make up for lost time.
Fortunately, talent is not solely dependent on nationality or culture and a group of women, not only highly gifted footballers but also endowed with the grit and wherewithal to overcome any number of prejudices, made it their goal to write a historic chapter in Women’s World Cup history: the first and to date only victory by a Spanish-speaking side.
At their opening campaign at women’s football’s top table at Germany 2011, Colombia would lose all three of their Group C encounters, having been drawn in a fearsome section also containing genuine heavyweights Sweden, USA and Korea DPR. Learning the lessons from those encounters, Las Superpoderosas returned to the highest level at Canada 2015 with their ambition levels renewed and, after an opening draw with Mexico, came the chance to tackle mighty France.
“I’ve got magnificent memories of that match, of course,” said Lady Andrade, speaking to FIFA.com, on Colombia’s against-the-odds success over Les Bleues in Moncton on 13 June 2015. “We played a very intelligent game. They had a lot of the play, but we were able to control the game and do what it took to win,” added Andrade, scorer of the opening goal on 19 minutes.
Clearly it was not quite as straightforward as all that as, after going a goal down, France laid siege to the South Americans’ area in a bid to get back on level terms. So, what was said in Las Cafeteras' dressing room at half-time? “That the most important thing was to keep the defensive discipline we’d shown in the first half,” revealed captain Natalia Gaitan. “We needed to protect our lead without losing our heads. It was about keeping our composure and concentration.”
Gaitan and her colleagues did just that, holding firm and keeping the French at bay until the third minute of added time, when Catalina Usme struck the clinching second goal – unleashing euphoria in the Colombian ranks.
"When the referee blew the final whistle all of us came together and hugged each other," recalled Gaitan, who plays her club football for Valencia in Spain. "I remember that there were lots of French fans in the stands, but after the game they applauded us for the great performance we'd put in. That's something I'll always hold in my head and my heart – it's one of the most beautiful moments I've experienced in football."
Short- and long-term impact
Even so, the Colombian delegation did not cut loose in terms of celebrating the momentous victory, and for good reason. "We didn't have as big a celebration as we would have liked because our assistant coach had a medical scare and we were more concerned about him than having a party. He was fine later on, all the excitement had just got to him!" said Gaitan with a chuckle.
Back at the hotel, once the adrenaline rush began to fade, was when the epic nature of the 2-0 success began to sink in. "We were headline news back home that day, it was very emotional," said the defender, looking back. "The news spread really widely via social media and there were lots of messages of support for the Superpoderosas. We generated a sense of pride in the Colombian people and that was really lovely."
Having thus picked up four points in their opening two games, the subsequent 2-1 loss against England – eventual bronze medallists – in the teams' final Group F match did not prevent Colombia progressing to the Round of 16. There they succumbed to United States, who went on to claim the Trophy.
"Now we have the respect that I think we deserve," added Andrade, on the long-term effects of the win over France. "We're real warriors and there's no doubt that the Colombian fans are aware of that now. Before, football fans only used to follow the men's teams, but I'm convinced that they now see us differently."
"The best lesson that we learned was that we must believe in ourselves and in the talent there is in Colombia," said Gaitan, signing off with an important nod to the future. "Obviously more support is required to help women's football continue to develop. But if the effort is put in, then we can achieve anything.”