Colombians pour into streets to welcome national squad home

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Bogota, July 6 (IANS) Colombia’s national football team arrived here after losing in the knockout stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and received a heroes’ welcome from tens of thousands of adoring fans.

People of all ages and areas of the country, many wearing the yellow national-team jersey, clogged the highway leading to the airport on Thursday and greeted the players and coaching staff as they rode by in a police-escorted bus to El Campin Stadium, reports Efe.

The charter flight from Kazan, Russia, where the squad’s World Cup base camp was located, landed at around midday at a military airfield on the outskirts of this capital.

The first to step off the plane was striker Radamel Falcao, followed by midfielder Juan Fernando Quintero and the rest of the players.

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Only Bayern Munich midfielder James Rodriguez and Palmeiras forward Miguel Borja were not on the flight, having instead traveled to Spain and Brazil respectively.

Head coach Jose Pekerman told reporters that his team had performed valiantly in Russia despite dealing with numerous obstacles and injuries.

The loss of James, who played sparingly in Colombia’s first and third matches and sat out the Cafeteros’ round-of-16 loss Tuesday night to England in a penalty shootout due to a calf injury, was a particularly tough blow.

James was a key player in Colombia’s 3-0 victory over Poland in its second match, assisting on two of the team’s goals.

Colombia reached the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup thanks in large part to the play of the Golden Boot-winning James, whose play helped make up for the absence of an injured Falcao.

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Pekerman also echoed complaints by his players about the officiating in the England match, saying his team had been “very adversely affected” by American referee Mark Geiger’s decisions.

Falcao, who had railed against Geiger immediately after Tuesday night’s game, continued that same theme in remarks to reporters.

“Maybe we didn’t lose because of what the referee did or didn’t do, but we were a bit affected by the way he treated us… There were a series of decisions that in a certain sense turned everything in England’s favour and went against us, but it’s not… to say we lost for that reason,” Falcao added.

The team bus eventually made its way to jam-packed El Campin, where Thursday’s party will continue with a concert by Latin pop and reggaeton star Sebastian Yatra and other recording artists.

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