Twenty games in Colombia and Ecuador including clasicos in Medellin and Quito plus a couple of Copa Libertadores matches.
18th February Millonarios 1 La Equidad 3 Copa Colombia c. 12,000
Arriving at about 4pm into Bogota from Madrid/London I had enough time to get my hotel in the centre and take the Transmilenio to El Campin.
The Transmilenio is some system, an often packed series of buses that plough their way along dedicated lanes.
Some stop at intermediate stops others don’t.
It took a while to work out which no’s I could take.
Eventually I made it up to calle 57 where it is a 15 minute walk to the stadium.
My expectation was for a fairly low key event, this being the very early stages of the Colombian cup.
But the local hinchas were out in force congregating at both ends of the ground and maintaining a constant rhythm of chants and songs.
The match started well for the blues who missed a number of good chances before captain Candelo converted after hitting the post.
But La Equidad, coached by Santiago Escobar, brother of the late Andres Escobar, got back into it when the impressive Roger Torres dribbled along the byline to score the leveller.
Into the second period the visitors tended to dominate, taking the lead when Mexican Tavares scored after a couple of blocks.
La Equidad sealed the victory in the final minutes via a header from sub. Gonzalez.
It had started well for Millonarios, the club of the legendary Alfredo di Stefano, but ‘The Insurers’
took the points.
The transmilenio proved even more problematic on the way back, as I watched the barra bravas jump the barriers, since the outward bus options weren’t running.
So it was taxi back to the Ibis and a beer to relax.
19th February America Cali 2 Depor 1 Copa Colombia c. 7,000
An early start to get the flight to Cali.
Then a minibus from the terminal to the evocatively named Buga, some 75 km north of Cali.
Where America were playing at 3pm on this Thursday afternoon.
Again I expected not too many attending but instead the small ground was packed with red shirts.
And there were celebrations for the 88th anniversary of the existence of the club entailing music, dancing and lots of red balloons.
In the end the fans had plenty to cheer even the few hundred locked out who included the barra brava.
America took the lead after 8 minutes when unmarked striker Mercado headed in after a free kick was cleared.
But as in the first game the visitors replied, this time a crashing left foot shot by Balanta.
After the break America soon made some changes including bringing on the chubby but skilful (and popular) no 8.
And he was part of the move that brought the deserved winning goal, scored neatly by the pacy Cristian Lasso.
I walked back to the bus terminal, as the barra brava sang and waved their umbrellas outside the ground, and got the minibus back to Cali.
There was plenty of time to enjoy a beer in the hotel and a steak meal in the very conducive El Penon area while watching some Copa Libertadores on the TV.
21st February Deportivo Cali 0 Alianza Petrolera 0 Primera A c. 15,000
I transferred hotels to the one actually in the airport terminal at Cali.
This was partly because of an early morning flight and also because Deportivo’s stadium is not too far away.
It is in fact isolated down a side road.
But on getting there you see an impressive ground of sizeable open seating and 5 tiers of boxes on each side above the ‘regular’ seating.
The green shirted fans provided a fine sight with the ultras to my right leading the entertainment.
Their team started well producing some dangerous crosses while Alianza were content to keep it tight and slow things down.
The away defence kept solid throughout though one shot from substitute Roa did test Jerez.
Alianza probably had the best chance when Castro ran free but he delayed his effort and ended up colliding with the home goalie.
With the fans noise increasing Deportivo applied the pressure late on but the nearest they came to scoring was when a parried shot glanced the post.
In the final minutes of the six added on we had a big altercation, prompted by Alianza delaying tactics, involving the away bench and the home players (and at least one fan).
Two were sent off , one from each side, to add to the earlier dismissal of Cali midfielder Guaza for two yellows.
So plenty of late action but not the sort that produces goals.
I joined the hundreds of motor bikes and cars in the dust and managed to jump in a taxi for the shortish ride back to the airport.
22nd February Atletico Huila 1 Deportes Tolima 1 Primera A c. 8,000
I flew south to Neiva for this Sunday evening encounter.
Played at the Estadio Plazas Alcid which appeared more like a derelict ground than one that was actually in use.
But in use it was, at least 3 sides anyway.
To the right, in the small, curved end were the very lively local ultras waving flags and singing their songs.
They greeted the players entrance with multi-coloured smoke.
Both sides attacked in this game but it was Tolima who took the lead when a corner was headed in by Monsalve.
Fifteen minutes later Atletico were level following good work down the left allowing David Ferreira to shoot home the equaliser.
After that we had few clear cut chances although Estrada of the visitors went close with an acrobatic overhead effort.
On a steamy night, where the pace stayed high, like the players I needed some water after the match.
Back in the centre everywhere was quiet - I suspect not many tourists take in Neiva.
23rd February Fortaleza 3 America Cali 1 Primera B c. 4,000 (mostly away)
Back to the Colombian capital.
Out off Avenida Americas is the Estadio Metropolitano de Techo home to three Bogota based teams.
Fortaleza is one and they are a relatively new formation.
So not too many follow them (this is not Sydney) since you have giants like Millonarios and Santa Fe in the city.
That doesn’t apply to America Cali who have a substantial support base as again was illustrated by the number of fans inside and waiting outside the ground.
The ultras eventually congregated behind the left hand goal.
I sat in one of the covered side stands which are, slightly incongruously, split into two parts.
Thankfully for this attendee the weather was far more comfortable than in Neiva - some even brought poncho style blankets.
After America had the better of the first half, including missing an open goal header, Fortaleza took the lead when they beat the offside trap.
A second was added on 75 minutes when the useful looking no.10 made space and shot in left footed.
His midfield skills eclipsed those of America’s no.8 who again came on in the second period.
Although he did test the home goalie from a free kick.
The final part saw some hectic action with a sending off for both sides and a penalty reply from the Red Devils.
But despite being roared on by the barra America couldn’t get the equaliser and they conceded a breakaway third at the very end.
No problem getting a taxi (plentiful so far in Colombia) although communication was more of an issue.
Nonetheless I was back at the hotel in good time for a couple of beers.
24th February Cortulua 0 Cucuta 0 Primera A c. 8,000
My route was via Cali and then a bus on to Tulua.
Which is a smaller city seemingly off the general tourist schedule.
The local team had come up from the second level.
And in this match, played in warm dry conditions, they perhaps should have got the three points.
Once in each half they hit the post.
Cucuta did start well but the home side fought back in a game that was played at a watchable pace.
Sadly neither side troubled the scorers.
In pleasant conditions I strolled back to the quiet centre alongside the motor bikes.
25th February Deportes Tolima 1 Millonarios 0 Primera A c. 15,000 (1,500 away)
The bus ride from Tulua to Ibague, some 5 and a half hours, provides some superb mountain views.
But I was glad someone else was doing the driving as much of the trip was along twisting roads full of trucks.
Ibague itself is surrounded by forested scenery and the weather for the match was nicely mild.
Tolima play in the Estadio Murillo Toro, a sizeable ground with mostly open seats and a covered main stand.
For once there is a large away contingent, mostly towards the left corner.
Their counterparts, the local ultras, were behind the right hand goal.
They produced a large flag and soon enough the band got the songs going.
Think of joining the barra ? - you need to be able to whistle.
Think of joining the (Amerindian-style) dancing troupe ? - you need long hair, or maybe extensions ?
The match was a feisty affair with both sides ‘well up’ for the occasion.
There were numerous bookings and an early red, for a rash tackle, for midfielder Rivas.
That got the referee plenty of grief but he made amends, as far as the locals were concerned, when he awarded a, disputed, penalty on 52 minutes.
Paraguayan Robin Ramirez scored, which turned out to be the winner.
The official would also even up the contest when he gave a second yellow to Reina of Millonarios much to the delight of the Tolima fans.
As the second half progressed the home side would limit the visitors from Bogota to few chances and they might have scored another from a breakaway.
However the three points were secure.
26th February Ind. Santa Fe 3 Colo Colo 1 Copa Libertadores 30,000 (250 away)
And so a return to Bogota and a return to El Campin to see the other big team in Bogota play the visitors from Chile in the Libertadores.
In a typically vibrant atmosphere we had flags and choreo from around the stadium.
Ultimately we would have ‘Ole’s’ as well.
Since ‘The Reds’, after a fairly cautious start, would go on to dominate.
And that was down to striker Wilson Morelo who went on to score all three goals
His (sometimes ultra-) cool finishing was the highlight of this second victory for Santa Fe.
The first and second goals were both from through balls into the centre of the Colo Colo defence.
The visitors would scramble to combat Morelo’s movement and sureness.
Two nil down at half-time Colo Colo did get a penalty following Zapata’s trickery but their fight back would be short lived.
Morelo was soon on hand to claim his third on 65 minutes and even when down to ten men Santa Fe were never troubled.
Hence the ‘Ole’s’ towards the end.
For me a brisk exit and a taxi back to the international centre on a cool evening in the capital.
28th February Junior 0 Envigado 0 Primera A 27,067
Next on to the steamy hot Caribbean coast and the famous walled city of Cartagena.
Where I based myself for a few days.
Some 2 or 3 hours north east is Barranquilla.
Junior, one of the big teams in Colombia play there, at the Metropolitano which is often, successfully, used by the national team.
On this night, with the red & white flags and the two tiers, it felt a little like watching River Plate.
Sadly for the local fans Los Tiburones were not particularly lethal.
Their steady build up brought lots of possession but also gave the visitors plenty of time to organise.
Junior came close a couple of times in the first period while Envigado were limited to the odd shot.
But, although they added some more forwards including the tall Paraguayan striker Roberto Ovelar the outcome was the same.
Long balls did provide another option and the free kicks conceded by the visitors might have changed things but either Junior’s inadequacies or Envigado’s defending meant the scoreboard never altered.
The large crowd, including the vibrant ultras, were frustrated.
So Envigado got a point and they stayed towards the top of the league.
The journey back to Cartagena was memorable for the numbers of bars we passed pounding out the music.
Colombians obviously like to dance.
1st March Real Cartagena 1 Univ. Popayan 0 Primera B c. 5,000
Real Cartagena’s stadium is very much yellow-themed, with largely open seats and a partially covered main stand.
The ultras were towards the right, the end into which their team would attack in the first period.
Not that they did much initial attacking as Popayan, and in particular the tall no.11 and the small no.8, looked more threatening.
They would create some half chances with the no.10 as the prompter.
But, not for the first time, it was their opponents who would score when Parra received the ball in space in the area and he drove home right footed.
Cartagena should have added a second after the interval when a free header was put over.
But the home side generally were content to break up play and though they got the three points ,to remain near the top, it was not a pretty performance.
The visitors often played the better football.
Back by taxi to the historic centre.
Cartagena itself as a popular tourist site being virtually enclosed by walls and having some wonderful colonial buildings.
A post game meal and a stroll around in very warm weather is a conducive end to any day.
Earlier I visited the evocative Palace of the Inquisition with its instruments of torture.
You can read about the kinds of questions asked of the potential witches (eg how did you learn to fly ?)
And you can understand one of the ways they identified witches - if their weight was in excess of a certain amount related to their height.
Certainly as of today in a world of fizzy drinks and hamburgers there must be a lot of witches around.
Apparently once going before the Inquisition in Cartagena nobody was ever freed.
Fortunately most make it out of Cartagena alive these days.
4th March Envigado 1 Ind. Medellin 1 Copa Colombia c. 5,000 (mostly away)
The Envigado stadium is fairly close to the Medellin metro of the same name.
On a warm night most of the entertainment was provided by the very lively Medellin ultras behind the left hand goal.
They sang their songs and enjoyed themselves by bouncing around in typical style.
Sadly there was not that much goalmouth action to report.
Envigado started on the front foot and they drove in a couple of decent long range efforts.
But gradually Medellin gained more control without troubling the home goalie.
Then near the end of the first half Envigado were awarded a penalty,
Which their striker blasted over.
But his blushes were spared when they went ahead anyway as Moreno was given space on the left to score into the corner.
But early in the second half Medellin equalised - playmaker Hernandez driving in decisively at the second attempt.
And that was the end of most of the on-field excitement.
Although the visitors made some forward changes it failed to affect the result.
I took the metro back to Poblado and sampled a weiss beer in the popular Parque Lleras area.
5th March Atl. Nacional 1 Estudiantes 1 Copa Libertadores 38,404 (c. 20 away)
Staying in Medellin to see the other big team in their quest for Libertadores glory.
Before that I had visited the Museo Antioquia which features many works by Fernando Botero - both inside and outside.
The characteristically rotund images dominate the nearby plaza (the females would undoubtedly be pronounced as witches by the Inquisition)
You look at the sculptures and paintings and you are unsure whether you like them or not - maybe thats the idea ?
Anyway there was nothing not to like about the atmosphere at the Atanasio Girardot as the ultras in the south end led the chants and songs.
The passion would build up with many fans arriving some two hours before the 8.30pm kickoff.
In the match Nacional started somewhat nervously and Estudiantes looked the sharper.
But gradually the home side exerted more control and the visitors resorted to slowing things down and breaking up play.
Nacional had some joy down the right but it was through the middle, via a mistake, that led to the opener driven home by Paraguayan Pablo Zeballos.
That score, just before the break, enabled Nacional to go in a goal ahead.
But it always seemed likely that they would need a second.
That didn’t arrive, despite some chances, and sure enough Estudiantes equalised with about twenty minutes remaining.
A chipped pass beat the offside trap and an equally assured finish by Jara delivered the leveller.
The score was about right and though we had some changes and a few chances the match eased to a draw.
Which was a bit of a letdown for the passionate home fans who had seen their team heading for their first victory.
I went back via, the thankfully less crowded, metro to my hotel in Poblado.
7th March Ind. del Valle 2 LDU Loja 0 Primera A c. 3,000
And so from Medellin to a somewhat quieter Quito.
Where on this Saturday afternoon it was warm but cooler (and a lot cloudier) later.
Independiente play in Sangolqui, a thirty minute or so drive south from Quito.
Most of the fans in their small stadium were in the ‘main stand’ including a small group of ultras.
Both outside, and behind one goal, you could see the declaration that IV would be ‘the future champions of Ecuador’.
And on this evidence they have a chance.
The win took them back to the top of the league.
An early penalty set them on their way after striker Daniel Angulo was adjudged to have been held.
Promising looking midfielder Gabriel Cortez easily dispatched the spot kick.
Cortez offered neat right foot passes and often fine delivery from free kicks. Possibly a name to watch.
LDU did hit the bar in the first half and they also contributed some useful long range efforts but in the end they ran out of ideas.
The match was sealed following a through ball from Arroyo to D. Angulo who shot past the visiting goalie on 55 minutes.
The other Angulo (Julio) would miss a good chance for a third but it mattered not and the home side gathered another three points.
As well as the talent of Cortez Independiente have willing wide men and what looks like an experienced defence, well marshalled by Arturo Mina and goalie Azcona.
Maybe they will realise their aspiration in the near future.
8th March Deportivo Quito 0 LDU Quito 0 Primera A 25,000 (c. 15,000 away)
Perhaps for reasons of better security this capital clasico kicked off at 11.30am on the Sunday morning in bright but breezy conditions.
Outside the Atahualpa stadium there was the odd skirmish between the fans but the police looked to have it under control.
Inside the Deportivo fans were opposite the ‘main stand’ and the much larger LDU contingent to the right and left.
Because of the open nature of the ground, with its track, some of the atmosphere was lost.
And the game didn’t help either.
We had corners, free kicks and some decent efforts but mostly there was a lack of goalmouth incident and also a lack of quality.
The only time the fans would get really animated was when LDU had a goal disallowed in the second half.
Then for some minutes we saw some open play.
But generally, with both teams relying on a single front man, the game was fairly sterile.
In the end the point was probably OK for bottom team Deportivo but less so for the many LDU fans.
I took the bus back to Plaza Quinde, enjoyed a coffee (avoiding the drug dealers) and reflected on a clasico that will not live in the memory for too long.
11th March Cucuta Deportivo 1 Deportes Tolima 1 Primera A c. 2,500 (c. 30 away)
Firstly from the relative quiet of Quito to the more hectic Bogota.
Not only hectic but a little scary.
‘Do you want a lower or upper floor ‘ I was asked at my hotel.
I opted for upper - for the better views and less noise.
One thought that I hadn’t considered was if there was an earth tremor.
Which happened on the Tuesday, measured at 6.2, centered about 170 miles north of the capital.
Being on the 14th floor meant you experienced a considerable amount of swaying, for 2 or 3 minutes.
Then - it stopped.
And pretty much everything went back to normal.
The next day I flew to Cucuta, close to the Venezuela border.
Where it was much steamier but with less shaking.
Deportivo play in the Estadio General Santander which is central and feels like it has seen better days.
But it is sizeable with two tiers all around and features names of Barras at various positions in the seating.
Not many turned out on this early Wednesday evening.
As usual there was a group of ultras in the upper tier and, somewhat surprisingly, a small number of away fans.
Tolima started well and scored after ten minutes when Estrada found room on the left to shot in through a group of players.
Cucuta were usually second best but they did miss a couple of first half chances, especially their hapless striker who headed a good opportunity over the bar.
The visitors always looked more fluent and it came as a surprise that Deportivo did manage an equaliser - in the final minute driven in by substitute Ossa.
It was not deserved and Tolima could feel a bit aggrieved at the outcome.
I strolled back to the centre and ate in the impressive shopping centre (Cucuta doesn’t seem to have too many attractions - but the shopping centre is a pleasant haven)
12th March Boyaca Chico 1 Patriotas 1 Primera A c. 2,500 (mostly away)
From the heat of Cucuta to the relative coolness of Tunja, north of Bogota.
Some felt the cool more than others - ponchos were in evidence.
What to make of this clasico ?
The Estadio La independencia looks half finished with mostly open stands and an old terrace at one end.
Not too many fans turned out for a late afternoon start - many arrived late (from work ?)
Earlier the number of police came close to outnumbering the fans.
Security was tight with two searches.
The Boyaca Chico ultras, to the left end, made the most of their numbers spreading out with four large flags.
A much smaller number of ‘away’ ultras were positioned opposite.
In the match Boyaca Chico looked to have the edge, particularly when they went ahead with a goal after 30 minutes from close range.
Patriotas did hit the post in the first period but otherwise they were disappointing.
Especially as they are much higher placed.
Eventually the ‘visitors’ (they share the stadium) made some changes and pushed more men forward.
But it took until the final minute (again !) of added time before the equaliser.
Striker Rivas drove a free kick from the edge of the area that eluded the wall and the goalie to setoff plenty of celebrations for their players and fans.
It was tough to take for Chico, in their chequered Boavista-like shirts.
On the way back I settled for a cheeseburger and an early night.
14th March Once Caldas 1 Aguilas Doradas 1 Primera A 8,613
I travelled the day before from Tunja by bus (3 hours - 2 hours travel about 1 hour mucking about) to Bogota, then another bus to Manizales (3 hours stuck in Bogota traffic, nearly seven more hours on the road, albeit through some fine scenery)
In Manizales, which is characteristically hilly, the Estadio Palogrande is one of the more impressive Colombian stadiums although the turnout was a little thin on this early Saturday afternoon.
However the local ultras were excellent, especially the very enthusiastic drummers.
They kept up a constant rhythm throughout.
Which was more than could be said about their team which were mostly under par.
Both sides had half chances in the first period but it was the renamed (again) visitors who passed the ball better.
They would take the lead soon after the break when full back Arboleda broke down right and his cross found the unmarked Palomino who scored comfortably enough.
After that ex-Copa Libertadores champions Once made some changes but it made little difference as their final delivery was always lacking.
That was until the final minutes when a superb Johan Arango free kick brought the leveller.
It was one of the few pieces of quality from the home side.
And it was the third time in succession I had seen a late equaliser and it meant my 11th draw in 17 games in Colombia and Ecuador.
15th March Atl. Nacional 3 Ind. Medellin 1 Primera A 38,400
The Medellin clasico - not for the faint hearted.
With aways fans banned (although one or two seemed to pop up when Medellin scored - they were soon ejected) this was a green and white celebration with at times deafening noise and, for a clasico, plenty of action.
Beforehand we had the displays and the songs and the smoke - the ultras had spent a long time preparing.
It always helps any match to get a quick start.
And so it was as Nacional hit the post on two minutes and followed that soon after with a neatly headed goal by Paraguayan striker Velazquez.
That got the fans in the mood.
But gradually Independiente gained more control, led by their playmaker Daniel Hernandez.
So it was the ‘visitors’ who then played the better football culminating in a great chance for Hernandez that clipped the bar.
But eventually their possession told and they were awarded a (disputed) spot kick that Caicedo dispatched comfortably enough - greeted in deafening silence.
So it was 1-1 at the break.
Nacional made changes in the second half and although Medellin continued to look neat on the ball it was the home side that took their chances.
A long free kick found Guerra at the far post and he converted with twenty minutes remaining.
It was left to popular substitute Jefferson Duque to apply the coup de grace nodding in a cross in the final few minutes.
The ultimate scoreline flattered Nacional though that hardly mattered to the ecstatic fans.
Certainly a clasico to see in a city of passionate fans.
With the metro closed, presumably for safety reasons, I had to take a taxi (usually not too costly) back to my hotel.
16th March Deportes Quindio 1 Depor 3 Primera B c. 300
The bus from Medellin to Armenia takes about 5.5 hours through some typically mountainous, wooded, scenery.
Quindio play in the Estadio Centenario that was used for the recent FIFA U-20 tournament.
Its a pleasant 15,000+ stadium with curving roofs, a green/yellow/white theme with ‘Armenia’ picked out along the side.
You could probably have counted the crowd on this late Monday afternoon.
But the local ultras did their thing to the left end with their drums and songs.
The pitch looked somewhat of a problem.
Although not so much to the visitors, who despite being bottom of the league, always looked the better team.
They took the lead on 8 minutes when a long free kick reached defender Zuluaga who volleyed in at the far post.
Quindio did improve and they produced some half chances as the first half wore on.
But it took until the hour mark before they equalised - from a one/two finished by Torres.
However parity was short lived since from another neat move tall striker Rosero scored and that seemed to knock the stuffing out of the home side.
They went further behind when Perreira was given the chance to seal the match following a long throw move.
So Depor, previously at the foot of the second division, secured their first league win of the season and it was certainly merited.
I took a taxi back to my small hotel near the terminal and just had chicken legs (tasty) and juice as a post-match meal.
18th March Llaneros 1 Boyaca Chico 1 Copa Colombia c. 250
I had travelled back by bus to Bogota on the Tuesday before taking a day trip the next day to Villavicencio for this Colombian Cup match played at 3.30 pm.
Villavicencio may be only about 80 kilometres from Bogota but it took four hours to get there (and three to get back)
The explanation is the traffic in the capital, roadworks, the numerous trucks and the mountainous terrain.
Even once we arrived in ‘Villavo’ there were more roadworks.
Which meant I might miss the start of the game, but for some reason the kickoff was put back to 3.30pm.
Played on an artificial pitch (the only I saw on this trip ?) the match began with the home side in the ascendancy.
They would hit the post in the first half and generally play the better football than their top level opponents.
The period of stalemate was broken when Mendoza swept in right footed after 64 minutes to give Llaneros the lead.
However a pattern seen a number of times on this trip was continued as Boyaca Chico levelled near the end when Rodriguez headed in a free kick.
The final action was the sending off of a visiting player in added time.
And so this became my 12th drawn game out of the 20 matches.
At least the traffic was much less for the return minibus ride back to Bogota.
Notes on Colombia
The cities are crowded and so, particularly in the capital, you canget plenty of traffic jams.
Whereas Medellin has the benefit of a metro although it too can be very crowded.
But travelling around you are never far from some spectacular mountain scenery.
The weather can range from quite cool, in the evening, at the higher elevations to extremely hot (e.g Barranquilla)
Communication can be an issue - my very limited Spanish was often unintelligible - so knowing the exact location you want to go to, based on Calle and Carrera number is often essential.
However the locals were very friendly albeit in the cities it can be ‘every man for himself’, for example getting on the metro.
As for the football you have a competitive league with many close games (you can interpret the numerous draws as either very close games or tending to drift towards parity) and six or seven ‘big’ teams.
That is those in Bogota, Cali, Medellin, Barranquilla and Manizales (Once Caldas)
They garner larger crowds in mostly impressive stadiums although some of the other sides are watched by much smaller numbers.
Each of the big cities has historical centres and areas of quality restaurants (eg La Macarena in Bogota) and mention must be made of Cartagena which, as an UNESCO site, is rightly very popular with tourists and locals alike.
Colombia is thus well worth the visit and, for a European, is a moderately priced country.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/3307433018