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Friday, July 4, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Kickaround Thread For 7/4/14: A Mondragon's Tale

Photo from Getty Images and FIFA.com

Faryd Mondragon has the unique distinction of being the only player in the entire 2014 World Cup who was a squad member in the 1994 installment in the United States.

At the time, Mondragon was a soon to be 23-year-old keeper who saw first hand how his Colombian nation came into the tournament as destined for greatness, picked by some to even be world champions. Of course, it turned out to be the opposite of that, as a 3-1 loss to Romania, followed by the more infamous 2-1 defeat at the hands of the host Yanks proved to be the start of a long painful demise on the global stage for Los Cafeteros.

The shock exit out of World Cup ’94. The tragic death of Andres Escobar. The quick departure out of the group stage of the following World Cup in France. The three consecutive cycles of failing to qualify for the 2002, 2006, and 2010 World Cup.

Mondragon has seen his country endure its pinnacle and a pitfall, its apex and its vortex, its crowing and its collapse. And yet, despite all of those events and the myriad of countries he has played in, the Deportivo Cali goalkeeper has a front row glance at his country’s grand revival and represents its great perseverance.

The 43-year-old’s ability and dedication to still remain apart of his country’s national team is part of an inspiring wave of flair and fire that has made Colombia a legit title contender. The loss of a superstar like Falcao would have derailed most country’s prospects at World Cup glory, and could have easily summoned the ghosts of 1994 back to the forefront. But this nation has been through so much in its recent football history that the loss of their “Tigre” would not silence the lion spirit and drive of the current crop.

This strength in long term adversity has been crafted by Mondragon, who fittingly earned the distinction of becoming the oldest player to ever play in a World Cup game in their 4-1 group closing win over Japan.

It was quite the contrast from the last time Mondragon participated in the global tournament, as tears trimmed down his face as Colombia suffered their second consecutive World Cup “three & out” after handily losing to England. David Seaman had to console him back in 2008, as Mondragon was fully cognizant of how this could have been the last time for him at a World Cup. In 2014, another goalkeeping David, Ospina, came and embraced him in a joyous moment when the Nice shotstopper was subbed out for the venerable figure. A poignant moment that Colombian and natural football fans around the world celebrated, fully aware of the history Mondragon was making.

“It’s a great moment, at the end of a long journey, to play at the age of 43 at the World Cup,” Mondragon said. “Thanks to all my colleagues.”

Cameroon legend Roger Milla had now been surpassed by the venerable netminder, who just isn’t along for a last swan song ride. After their 2-0 victory over Uruguay to secure his nation’s first quarterfinal appearance, Mondragon posted a video of his teammate happily singing at dinner. It was only fitting that he sat at the head of the table.

A table filled with players who were all born when they footballing nation began to endure their turmoil, even 21-year-old wonders Juan Quintero and Eder Balanta. And a table filled of players desperate to fulfill the expectations and hopes that their countrymen were unable fulfill 20 years ago.

It was a painful time that Faryd Mondragon has forever placed deep in his heart, just like the countrymen who watched that fatal World Cup. And he has been able to translate in through to a new golden generation of players emphatically placing a new, great one besides it.

(World Cup kickaround thread for Brazil vs Colombia comes in a bit). 
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