While Colombia may currently be enjoying a slight resurgence on the international soccer stage – ranked third in the world behind Spain and Germany and looking poised to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro – to many people in the Latin American nation, nothing can compare to country’s glorious heyday of the early 1990s.
Captained by the wild-haired Carlos "El Pibe" (The Kid) Valderrama, the Colombian national team captured the collective attention of the nation when they qualified for three World Cups in a row - Italy '90, USA '94 and France '98. They also achieved the now legendary 5-0 away victory over Argentina in a World Cup qualifier in 1993, all while Colombia suffered a bloody internal conflict between guerrillas, drug cartels and the government.
Now to celebrate the achievements of the storied squad, Colombia’s Caracol television has a 60-part telenovela entitled La Selección that features actors portraying Valderrama, flashy goalie René Higuita and former Newcastle United star Faustino Asprilla.
"To have a TV series making you relive those moments that gave you so much happiness is great," said Edgar Vittorino, the actor who plays Valderrama in La Selección, according to the BBC. "The series is cheering many Colombians up. It is reminding us of how it feels to be going to a World Cup.”
The show has become a hit throughout the Latin American nation and has already become the most watched program in the country. This week, it also made it's online premier on Spanish-language network UniMas for worldwide audiences.
Vittorino said that playing “El Pibe” is an honor and that when he was young he idolized the Colombian national team star, who made club appearances in his home country as well as in France and the United States.
"I remember Valderrama playing against [Paraguayan goalkeeper Jose Luis Felix] Chilavert and [Argentine defender Diego] Simeone, as if he was a lion about to devour them. He was defending the Colombian colors,” he said. "That is why he achieved what he achieved, and that is why he is the undisputed captain, the leader: he had lots of passion. He really loved his team, really loved the country and wanted to make his dream come true: to take Colombia to victory."
The current Colombian squad has a long way to go if the team hopes to reach the venerated status of the 1990s players. But Vittorino said since appearing in the show fans have thanked him for bringing back the soccer nation’s glory days.
"The people I meet on the streets hug me and tell me I've done a good job,” he said. “They tell me they feel like they're watching El Pibe."