Tournament unites locals behind their homeland's team

Buy Photo Dana Jensen/The Day In the Groton home of Yenny Vanegas and William Silva, family and friends cheer Saturday when their Colombia team scores against Greece in a World Cup soccer match.

Groton — Shouts of “Viva Colombia!” could be heard even before the game started as a group of about 50 local residents of Colombian heritage shoe-horned their way into the basement of a small home here Saturday afternoon as World Cup soccer took center stage. 

“This is like a Super Bowl for us,” said a smiling Diana Coulombe shortly after fullback Pablo Armero scored the first goal for Colombia en route to a 3-0 victory over Greece in first-round action. 

“This is our Super Bowl multiplied by 10,” added Luis Vanegas at halftime of the match held in Brazil’s Estadio Minerao. “World Cup is a big deal.” 

Colombia hadn’t made the main draw of the world’s largest soccer tournament in 16 years, and the small South American country has never won the World Cup. But fans who gathered at the pink-sided, Wayne Road home of Yenny Vanegas and her husband, William Silva, were hopeful that their native country’s team would do well this time around. 

“This is special for us,” Silva said. “Everyone was waiting for this. Everybody has to enjoy the party ... old people, young people — it doesn’t matter.” 

Downstairs in Silva’s balloon-festooned basement, the yellow, blue and red uniforms of the Colombian team — outfits purchased whenever a friend or family member went to visit their homeland — seemed a near requirement for admission. Young girls with braids, moms with babies in their laps and men clutching beers cheered loudly whenever Colombia had a scoring chance, and breathed a sigh of relief when a Greek shot flew wide of the goal. 

Way in the back, a middle-aged man in a floppy, multicolored hat displayed the team colors while watching the game, broadcast in Spanish by Univision, projected on a huge screen. 

The gathering of friends and family included a pig roast followed by a small backyard soccer tournament. 

“We cannot be in Brazil,” said Fransy Lorena, who helped organize the party of Colombian soccer fans via Facebook, “but we can pretend that we are there.” 

“Right now, in my country, everything has stopped,” said Coulombe, who came from Guilford to cheer on the team. “This is our Colombia get-together.” 

Back in the 1990s, Colombia had a highly respected team that was projected as a possible World Cup favorite in 1994, said Edwin Bolanos of Mystic, who was only 12 years old the last time his team made the tournament. But the team kept disappointing with first-round losses, he said. Colombia has never made it past the second round. 

The 16-year World Cup drought has been hard on diehard fans who kept hoping the team would return to international prominence. 

“It’s the biggest sport in Colombia,” Bolanos said. “It’s what everyone grew up on.” 

He said the team needs to improve its midfield play, but he was pleased with the opening-game win. Another victory against Japan on Thursday would put Colombia into the eight-team, sudden-death draw where four wins means World Cup bragging rights but one loss sends teams home. 

“At least we got off on the right foot,” he said. 

l.howard@theday.com

The roasting pig, for after the game, is checked Saturday as family and friends of Yenny Vanegas and William Silva gather outside their Groton home during halftime of the Colombia vs. Greece World Cup soccer match.
Buy Photo Dana Jensen/The Day The roasting pig, for after the game, is checked Saturday as family and friends of Yenny Vanegas and William Silva gather outside their Groton home during halftime of the Colombia vs. Greece World Cup soccer match.
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