We had great ambitions. This is very difficult to accept, says coach Pekerman

Colombia can count itself unfortunate to exit the World Cup after a shootout defeat to England, but in truth it was never able to recreate the swagger of the pioneering 2014 side.

Four years ago in Brazil, Colombia romped to the quarterfinals for the first time on the back of four straight victories, salsa-dancing to celebrate its dozen goals and launching midfielder James Rodriguez on the road to global stardom.

The 2018 campaign was a mixed affair. An early red card hampered its chances in a loss to Japan but it looked full of pace, ambition and invention in sweeping past Poland. It left it late to beat Senegal but that was enough to top the group.

Colombia 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, the top-scorer in 2014, absent through injury, it 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.

“If they hadn’t stolen that goal we would be in the quarterfinals,” 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 the poise in the final third, exemplified by forward Radamel Falcao, who huffed-and-puffed desperately with little impact.

It had nothing on target until injury time at the end of the first 90 minutes, and former England winger Chris Waddle called the 23 penalised 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 has the consolation of showcasing another star in the form of the 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.

The 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.

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