FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) — Colombia has been playing the exciting brand of football that Brazilians believe their own team should be playing at this World Cup.
They’ve also been dancing after goals, bringing a spirit of fun to the pitch. Fullback Camilo Zuniga puts it down to coach Jose Pekerman’s philosophy of mixing amusement with responsibility.
Zuniga, who will be a key figure in marking Brazil forward Neymar in Friday’s quarterfinal match, said Pekerman “helped us believe in ourselves.”
“He drilled in our heads that we were good,” Zuniga said. “He drilled into our heads that a Colombian with the ball should have fun, that he shouldn’t have to play with pressure, but that it comes with responsibility.”
Zuniga, who likes to attack down the flanks, said that the dancing is in the “Colombian blood.” But he stressed that his first duty as a defender will be to contain Neymar and help the team keep a clean sheet.
Colombian goal celebrations have been choreographed dances, including salsa, with up to 10 players moving in lines together. And there’s been plenty of them – Colombia’s 11 goals in four games is second only to Netherlands in the tournament. James Rodriguez has scored a tournament-leading five goals and has been one of the stars of the tournament. Neymar, the Brazilian forward who could rightly feel like he’s carrying the weight of the host nation, has scored half of Brazil’s eight goals.
When asked if the dancing after goals bothered him because he’s an Argentine and may not be used to it, Pekerman said he wasn’t bothered in the least.
“It’s joyful, but sincere,” he said, adding that he lived in Colombia for many years as a player and one of his daughters was born there. “It’s a way of the boys communicating in something that is a goal. They have this energy, I like it, but always with respect.
“It’s something like a hug. It shouldn’t bother anybody.”
World Cup fans, including Brazilians, have taken a liking to Colombia’s style of football and its dancing antics. But now Colombia will face Brazilian fans at Castelao Arena who will be booing them for the first time at the tournament.
“This is going to be a new situation for us,” Pekerman said. “We have to deal with it. .. We hope to get quickly in the match to do what we’ve been doing so far.”