"More than drug money, it was drug imagination," says La Prensa's Pastrana. "Nobody had dreamed that we could have a Colombian team. Escobar had the instinct that Maturana was a great coach. Nobody knew then."
Few know this: Maturana's scope is even broader. He has done much to keep this national team above violence and drugs. He counsels his players on how to dress, how to speak, even how their wives should dress and speak. He knows that his team can set a positive example. "I'm telling all my people how to be more educated," Maturana says. "When you show that image, you feel better about yourself. That's what we want to show. But most of all, we want to show it inside Colombia."
In gathering this team Maturana was guided by the unorthodox belief that geography is chemistry. "For example," he says, "Alvarez and Gabriel Gómez are midfielders from Antioquia, a region of hardworking, disciplined people—and they're the ones who have to keep things under control. The fantasy I leave to Asprilla, Rincón, Valderrama—people from Cali and the coast. Those people are always partying; they're harder to discipline. They take care of the creative part." And somewhere in all that you can also see García Márquez's magic and Botero's artistry and Colombia's social strife. "We're always in conflict," Maturana says, "and that's what you see in our soccer." Maturana was raised in Medellín and now lives in Cali, and he has come to this conclusion: His game is his country—both pain and glory.
"Yes," he says, his voice close to a whisper, "it is Colombia."
The rain drops like a million needles, splashing off skin, slicking the ball; players go skidding along the asphalt in an oily tumble. No one stops playing. The game has been going on for generations now, every Sunday afternoon on this tiny stretch of street in Cali since long before the 85-foot statue of Jesus was raised in the hills above the city 42 summers ago.
William Marulanda Navía, 34, has lived all his life in the house two doors away from one of the rickety aluminum goals. His father played for América in the early 1960s, but the son has never done more than play in this game in the street. Blood drips down one of his knees. Soccer is one of the few constants he has ever known. If his country should lose in the World Cup, it won't hurt too much. "Colombia has had so many problems, it's like we've been in a constant battle," Marulanda says. "This is the only way we've survived all these years. We're used to losing. But we're also used to recovering quickly." This is one of those times of loss and renewal, he insists. "We have a bad image," he says, "but other countries are going through troubles too."
Colombians resent this: No one has lost more in fighting the drug war, and no one gets more of the blame. Colombians know that many Americans will see their team this summer and think cocaine, and Colombians insist that we shouldn't be so smug. They'll tell us that the U.S. is the No. 1 market for coke, that Bolivia—this year's surprise entry in the World Cup—grows more coca than Colombia, and that most of the chemicals used to produce cocaine come from Brazil, the oddsmakers' favorite to win the World Cup. As Maturana says, every country has its shadow of shame. Drugs are like soccer. They are everywhere.
But one thing drugs cannot do. They can't create talent. Drug money didn't spawn the genius of Asprilla and Valderrama or the creative philosophy of Maturana. "It was the seed money," says El Tiempo's Santos, "but this national team is also the product of individual players, getting better. It is a success story, a success story that started wrong. But how many NBA players grew up watching crack dealers and then were rescued?"
Across town Córdoba, 24, says he always feels the weight of 34 million Colombians on his shoulders. He is different from Higuita, more conservative, better educated, from a good family—the perfect Maturana player. "I have to be myself," he says. Yet he understands that he is measured against Higuita. "To fight against a symbol is very difficult," Córdoba says.
It won't be the first time. In 1988 Córdoba spent time as Higuita's backup with Nacional, learning the goalie-sweeper mindset by watching the master. Much of who he is, Córdoba knows, he owes to Higuita. "We became good friends at Nacional," Córdoba says. "Now we're not just friends; there's more to it."