Upon arrival to Bogotá, after a 12 hour or so journey from Amsterdam, I am immediately pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the Colombians. Being used to speaking Spanish in Spain, I notice there are some short words simply missing here when speaking Spanish. The fact that my suitcase has been left behind in Europe, normally a thing to get at least a little agitated with, is dealt with in such a friendly manner that I leave the airport with a smile.
“Welcome to Colombia,” I think, “this is going to be a great month!” While driving through the night from the airport to the JW Marriott, my home for the next month, I feel the cities great vibe, people are out on the street, enjoying the many bars and restaurants open all night.
The following morning it’s time for a walk around my new neighborhood.
The pace of life seems nice and easy here and the most delicious food and drinks are sold in most inventive ways. The “Never buy food from stalls on the street” saying goes through my mind when I put my teeth in a delicious empanada filled with a divine pork stuffing — the café tinto that goes with it makes my jet leg disappear well into the evening. The afternoon is spent with my fellow Getty Images photographers Jamie McDonald and Alex Grimm and our acclimatization day is ended with a nice team dinner at night.
The next day we all go our own way into Colombia and although I am based in Bogotá, my first two matches are in Medellin. After a comfortable flight I find out that travelling to the stadium as a FIFA photographer is definitely the way forward, as I watch comfortably from the back seat of the car, I see us surrounded by policemen on motorbikes maneuvering us gently through the afternoon traffic.
My first two matches at the Atanasio Girardot Stadium are pretty slow. England draws against Korea and Argentina wins 1-0 against Mexico.
Back in Bogotá the following morning I learn what it means that Colombia does not have seasons but rather a dry and a rainy period and this must be the rainy period. While as a Dutchman I have for sure seen rain before, this beats it all!
Within 30 minutes of torrential rain, the pitch of Bogotá’s Estadio Nemesio Camacho “El Campin” has turned into what most resembles a swimming pool. It forces the teams for the first match of the night to do their warming up inside their dressing room.
But the matter is quickly dealt with and with only one hour of delay the matches get underway and I finally get to know the play of the Colombian football team. Now here’s a football team one likes to follow, super friendly players, who seem to want only one thing (and that’s win), and they want to win badly. In their opening game they beat France 4-1 in front of an electric home crowd.
James Rodriguez, Luis Muriel, Juan Cabezas and their teammates lead by coach Eduardo Lara, one of the nicest persons I have met in football since a long time, send out a clear message: They are here to stay until the final.
In the weeks after, I see many great teams play. Portugal, Costa Rica, Spain, Argentina, England, Brazil all play fine football, but the most fantastic to follow around are Los Cafeteros. It’s great to see their actions and celebrations on the pitch and their preparation inside their dressing room – where I see Juan Cabezas reading his new testament after every winning match and where I see the team pray and coach Lara on his knees after lighting a candle in the shower area of the team’s dressing room before every match.
I see a team laugh, pray and wait before they show their many fans what they love doing most — playing good football — and it’s a shame to see their winning streak end after losing their quarter final match against Mexico. They will surely be missed.
But on it goes, and the following morning I am off to Cali for my second quarter final match.
After another quarter final match and a semi final match between Brazil and Portugal in Pereira, I am once more on a flight to Bogota, over the beautiful Magdalena River, where the final awaits me. And what a final it is, Brazil against Portugal!
From the quietness of the tunnel, where I photograph the players waiting before entering the pitch, I can hear the crowd of the sold out Estadio Nemesio Camacho “El Campin” cheer. It’s like you can feel the stadium move, like it’s alive, what an ambiance it is!
No more slow starts for the Brazilians as in their other games, its head to head this time, game on! Oscar opens to score in the 5th minute, Alex equalizes in the 9th and in the 59th minute Nelson Oliveira scores the 2-1 for Portugal. It’s in the 78th minute when I wonder if Portugal can really do it. Can they beat the Brazilians?
Nope! As it is, again, Oscar who scores to make the 2-2.
Twelve minutes to go! A brilliant cross from Dudu to Pele, breathtaking footwork from Philippe Coutinho and a last-minute save from Mika, 90 minutes are up and the referee blows his whistle, we are on to extra time. What a final! Again it’s Oscar — in the 111th minute he scores the winning goal, 3-2 and the stadium explodes.
The Portuguese fight until the very last minute but see all of their shots on goal blocked by goalkeeper Gabriel. And then it’s over. Referee Mark Geiger blows the final whistle, and Brazil has won their 5th FIFA U-20 World Cup.
And while Brazil celebrates their victory on stage with the trophy and a lap of honor past their many fans, I see a defeated Portuguese team dealing with losing the final. They were only 12 minutes away from the title; I can’t help to feel sorry for them.
It’s far past midnight when I am done sending my images and arrive back at the hotel to join the people I have spent the past month with for a well-deserved Club Colombia.
After 23 games and 32 flights, after a great month in Colombia, a fantastic country, it’s time to pack up. It’s always a challenge to fit everything back into one suitcase again. Off to Amsterdam where I will spend two days at home before heading to Monaco for another great final, this time for the European Super Cup between FC Barcelona and Porto. Kick-off quarter to 9!