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Colombia exit World Cup but fans and memories remain

August 12, 2023

Colombia will not win the World Cup, but they have won plenty of hearts and new fans in Australia. A surprise package on the pitch, the South American side have also been a highlight in the stands and united a diaspora.

Frauen Fußball WM 2023 | England v Kolumbien | Fans
Image: Sajad Imanian/DeFodi/picture alliance

As Colombia’s players bent double in despair on the pitch, the drummer barely missed a beat. Their team had just exited the World Cup after a 2-1 defeat to England, but this wasn’t the end for the Colombian fans. An hour after the game finished, the drums still sounded and the singing did not cease.

"Our fans have been fundamental," defender Manuela Vanegas told DW. "We felt as if we were playing in Colombia, we felt like we were playing at home. They supported us throughout the 90 minutes of every match that we played."

On the pitch, Colombia's campaign has been expertly steered by slaloming sensation Linda Caicedo, wrecking ball Mayra Ramirez up front and the defensive resolve of Vanegas. It has also been driven by those in the stands in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and then Sydney again.

'Biggest and best fans'

While the Australian public has embraced its team, the country's isolated geography has meant traditional traveling fans are rarer than usual at a major tournament. But expatriate fans from across the globe have more than made up for that absence.

"We're one of the biggest and best set of fans because we're Latin. We love having lots of noise and we're very friendly," Colombian fan Valentina Alvarez told DW. "You can feel that in the stadium."

Valentina Alvarez poses in front of Stadium Australia
Valentina Alvarez is proud of the way her country have been supported in the World CupImage: Matt Pearson/DW

You certainly could. There are nearly 300,000 English people living in Australia, but tonight they were vastly outnumbered. From the moment the anthems played before kickoff, it felt as if every one of the 35,000 Colombians in the country had taken a seat among the 75,384 crowd at Stadium Australia.

"Soccer is an opportunity to reunite people, to bring everyone together and that's the beauty of it," added Alvarez. "That's why everyone is here and supports our country in this way, it's such a big achievement."

Yellow Wall

In stark contrast to their home Euros last year, England were booed when they looked dangerous and jeered when they failed, while their opponents were surfing a wave of noise. It was the same for Germany on the eastern side of this city in the group stage, as it has been for all of Colombia's other opponents. Only occasional streaks and splashes of white interrupted the vibrant yellow wallpaper stretched across each stand.

Jorelyn Carabali holds her head in her hands
Colombia's players were distraught, but this tournament could leave a lasting legacyImage: Nigel Keene/Pro Sports Images/IMAGO

"It was amazing," England and Bayern Munich midfielder Georgia Stanway told DW. "Hearing their national anthem was unbelievable. I think it just shows how far women's football is growing. The noise in the stadium was exactly what you want."

Saturday’s color palette was certainly helped by Austalians in their own shade of yellow and buoyed by their win over France earlier in the evening. Alvarez's group also included Brazilians, with South Americans, locals and plenty of other non-Colombians jumping on the Las Cafeteras (coffee growers) bandwagon.

Heading home with new impetus

"I was supporting the US, but since they went home early it's really exciting to see other countries playing to that level,” Alison Cox, who is of Colombian heritage but traveled from the States for the tournament, told DW. "So I've been rooting for them [Colombia]. The fans are so lively and it's typical of that country, very lively people, very energetic."

Alison Cox poses in front of Stadium Australia
Alison Cox traveled from the USA to watch the tournamentImage: Matt Pearson/DW

Many of them will now be heading home, whether that is to Brisbane or Bogota, but there are hopes, both among the players and fans, that their performances in Australia can have a lasting impact on a country where women's football has had to battle for every inch.

"Women in Colombia are never supported. I think some people have knowledge of what's going on, but it's not like when the men play,” said Alvarez. "The fact that the World Cup is being held in Australia is what has made it amazing, because Australia is a supportive country in regards to women's soccer. I really think this can help us move forward."

For Caicedo, arguably the breakout star of the tournament, the pain was clear. But, even at 18, she was able to reflect.

"I'll leave feeling very happy with what the team did," she told DW. "Individually I tried to enjoy myself and keep feeling like that girl who started playing football in my neighbourhood. I will always try to give the best of myself."

She certainly did that. But long-term progress, perhaps the greater goal for Colombia, will depend largely on improvements from their federation helping a crop of players, and a group of fans, who have proved their worth.

Edited by: Tom Gennoy