Colombia’s run to the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals may have taken many by surprise, but for coach Nelson Abadia it is the product of years of building.
The South Americans face European champions England on Saturday in Sydney and no matter what happens, this has been a breakthrough moment for Colombian women’s football.
It is only the national team’s third World Cup and they failed to qualify for the previous edition in 2019, when Abadia was also in charge.
But Colombia did not panic and now they are reaping the benefits with a place in the last eight for the first time.
Forward Linda Caicedo has been one of the stars of the World Cup and in the 1-0 win over Jamaica in the last 16 Abadia also gave a start to defender Ana Guzman. Both are 18.
“Linda, as well as Ana Maria, came into the national (youth) team when they were 12 years old,”
“We’ve been growing together since they were 12 years old and stimulating their growth into what they are today.”Said Abadia.
The 67-year-old Abadia has been involved with the women’s national team for nearly a decade, first as technical assistant to coach Fabian Taborda.
In 2017 he was promoted to the top job and has made a point of working closely with the national youth teams.
In 2019 Colombia’s women footballers won gold at the Pan American Games for the first time and they were runners-up at last year’s Copa America, losing the final to Brazil but qualifying for the World Cup.
Caicedo and Guzman were part of the team which topped their group at last year’s U-20 World Cup only to be defeated by regional rivals Brazil in the last 16.
“We started with that process since they were 12 years old, and then at the U-20 World Cup they were 17 years old,”
“So it’s been since 2017 that we started this renewal process.”Abadia said.
Abadia spent years going all over Colombia scouting for young players, part of what he called “a methodical process”.
“Thank God it paid off,”
“I was able to visualise them playing for the national teams.
“I was doing scouting up and down the country and collecting information on potential players.”He said after the Jamaica win, praising Colombian football bosses for sticking with him and his vision.
Guzman came into the side because of suspension to Manuela Vanegas and as well as helping them to a clean sheet against Jamaica, the teenager set up skipper Catalina Usme for the winning goal with a wonderful cross-field pass.
On the eve of the match, Guzman described Abadia as “a key person in my life”, saying he had shaped her as a player and person.
Sarina Wiegman’s European champions England will be favourites to win on Saturday and reach the semi-finals.
But Colombia have already surprised Germany in the group phase, Caicedo scoring one of the goals of the tournament in a 2-1 win that contributed to the Germans’ early exit.
Add in more established players such as Leicy Santos, Mayra Ramirez and Vanegas, and with the quality of skipper Usme, and Colombia are in confident mood.
“I’ve been working with this team for many years now,”
“And when there’s a process behind it, there will be a result.”Said Abadia, whose son Mario is part of the coaching staff.
If Colombia’s landmark World Cup run does end in the quarter-finals, Abadia will consider this the beginning rather than the end.
“I still have four players back in Colombia and they will be the future of our national team,”He said.