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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 08:01 GMT
Smiling Colombia conquer continent
By Tim Vickery
from Manizales, Colombia

A recent survey by a Dutch university concluded that the Colombian people are the happiest in the world.

Colombia's Hugo Rodallega
Rodallega has reason to smile
Now they have an extra reason to wear a smile on their faces.

It is not often in South America that a match between Brazil and Argentina decides which team finishes second and which team finishes third.

But that is what happened on Sunday in the continent's Under-20 Championships.

Before the old rivals took the field Colombia had already wrapped up the title.

And Argentina's 2-1 win meant Colombia finished four points clear - a significant margin after a series of five games.

It clearly warrants a celebration and I'm writing this in the stadium with 'We Are The Champions' blaring in the background - bad taste is, I fear, international.

But Colombia deserve their extra moment of happiness.

They were the most impressive side in the competition, especially after they switched to playing with three centre backs.

It tightened them up in defence, freed their wing backs to push forward, and once the ball reached their strikers they always threatened goals.

Hugo Rodallega came from nowhere to become a new national hero.

He scored in every game he played and his haul of 11 goals is a competition record.

And his unselfish strike partner Wason Renteria was equally impressive.

It was a piece of combination play from the pair that allowed Rodallega to score the only goal against Brazil earlier in the tournament.

After the game there were words of wisdom from the beaten coach Rene Weber who was asked if Colombia were the superior team.

Coach Eduardo Lara celebrates with his players
The coach will hope for more to celebrate in Holland
His reply: they have home advantage and the pitches had suffered from the effects of torrential rainfall. It was far better to wait until the World Youth Cup in Holland this June before coming to any hard and fast conclusions on who has the better team.

He is clearly correct. But it is also true that both Brazil and Argentina have a lot of work to do before then.

Neither of the traditional giants lived up to expectations.

Argentina strolled through the first round, scoring at will against weak sides.

But the goals dried up when the going got tough. In all nine games their strikers only managed nine goals.

They were weak down the flanks and their midfield lacked a player capable of opening the pitch with a 40 yard pass.

At least they were unbeaten. Brazil suffered two defeats, and after their opening day slaughter of Ecuador in the first phase all of their other wins were desperately tight affairs.

Brazil had frightening physical strength, and the odd touch of individual flair, but their collective play was a disappointment.

They paid the price for having only one left-footed player, and they might be concerned that some of their central midfielders look more like athletes than footballers.

Colombia, then, can prepare for the World Youth Cup with the confidence of being champions of their continent.

Winning in Holland will be much harder than winning at home, and controlling the euphora will not be easy.

But their impressive coach Eduardo Lara has some quality resources at his disposal, and there is a chance that the Dutch University might be able to catch a first hand glimpse of Colombian happiness.




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