For two consecutive World Cups, Colombia was one of the most exciting teams in the world. In 2014, they thrashed everyone in their group, advancing to the knockouts and eventually the quarter-finals by scoring 12 times in five games. In 2018, they were eliminated in the Round of 16, having scored six goals in four games. For reference, fourth-placed Morocco scored six times in seven matches in Qatar.
Equally important, however, was Colombia’s stout defense. In 2018, Colombia was eliminated on penalties against England, conceding just three goals all tournament — only one of which came from open play. In 2014, they conceded just four goals.
However, Colombia did not have this defensive strength last year. In South America’s CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers, they allowed 19 goals, the joint-most in their qualifying history. This included a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Ecuador, the team’s worst defensive performance in nearly 50 years.
Now, however, a new era is starting. Colombia already has plenty of talented forwards — including one of my personal favorites, Daniel Ruiz Rivera — but defense is also a position where they have some talented prospects: particularly Independiente star Kevin Mantilla.
CB Kevin Mantilla, 19, Independiente Santa Fe
Mantilla was born in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia and the home city of Independiente Santa Fe. Mantilla, a longtime fan of Independiente, rose through the ranks before making his debut at the age of 18.
The Colombian Liga DIMAYOR is split into two parts over a year, the Apertura and Finalización — literally the opening and closing tournaments. Santa Fe, traditionally one of the biggest teams in Colombia, endured an abysmal Apertura tournament, giving Mantilla a chance to earn a spot in the team.
The top eight Apertura teams advance to the next stage, where they are divided into two groups of four. From there, the two best teams face off in a two-legged final. When Mantilla made his debut, Santa Fe was outside of the top eight. Thanks in large part to the defender, Santa Fe won three of their next five to creep into the top eight. Unfortunately, Mantilla was sent off in his next match and missed the remainder of the season, with the club winning just one of its last four matches.
The Torneo Finalización works the same way as the Apertura, starting with a normal league format. Thankfully for Santa Fe, the Finalización went much differently than the Apertura, as the club finished top of the league. A big part of this was Mantilla, who played twelve matches, including three of their five clean sheets.
Santa Fe advanced to the next round, where they were up against three other teams in their group — including the club’s biggest rivals (and Ruiz Rivera’s club), Millonarios. Santa Fe kept two clean sheets in six matches and lost just once, but failed to advance from the group. Despite this, Mantilla impressed, particularly with his clean sheet against eventual winners Deportivo Pereira.
Mantilla isn’t the tallest defender — he’s just 6’1″ —but he has other strengths that are more valuable. He’s a strong tackler, winning the ball back and physically bodying attackers off the ball. Mantilla is good at reading the ball and intercepting passes, and he also knows where to move the ball forwards. Last season in the Apertura he averaged 92% pass accuracy, although he is overly dependent on his dominant right foot.
The South American U20 Championship will be big for Mantilla, giving him an opportunity to shine on a bigger stage. Colombia, in particular, will face off against South America’s finest — they’re up against Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Paraguay. If Mantilla impresses, he could move to a more competitive league like Portugal’s Primeira Liga or Spain’s La Liga.
Most likely, however, Mantilla will spend another year or two with Santa Fe. The Liga DIMAYOR resumes during the South American U20 Championship, so he’ll miss the start of the season. However, Mantilla is coming off a strong opening season with the club, and will likely be brought right back into a starting role.
If all goes well, Mantilla will be nearing a call-up for Colombia’s senior team. With the Copa America just a year away, it’s the perfect time for the Santa Fe star to be emerging.
Don’t worry if your comment does not show up, all comments must be approved to reduce spam. I hope you enjoyed, and as always, keep watching soccer!