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Inside Grove Liquors on SW 32nd Avenue at South Dixie Highway, two leggy, long-haired brunettes in yellow Colombian national soccer team jerseys walk in front of a mound of curly blond hair that is universally familiar to the avid fútbol fan. Carlos "El Pibe" Valderrama signs autographs as the young ladies serve a few of his fans candy-colored concoctions fortified with Hennessy, the cognac brand sponsoring Colombia's most famous soccer player's appearance this past May 26, 17 days before the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Of course, Colombia hasn't been a factor in cup play since the last time El Pibe suited up for the national team in 1998. The country did not qualify for the World Cup in 2002, 2006, or this year, but Valderrama promises that will change in 2014. "We'll be fine," he says.
Until then, he will root for Argentina or Brazil to win the most important championship in soccer. Argentina is coached by another legend, Diego Maradona, who has promised to run naked through Buenos Aires if his team wins it all. "Hopefully, one of those teams will win it for South America," Valderrama says, "and Diego will keep his pants on."
Valderrama played 111 international matches for Colombia, becoming the nation's most capped player. He is also the country's all-time assists leader. Unfortunately, he experienced a lot of heartbreak during World Cup competition. In 1994, he was a member of the team that lost 2-1 to the United States. During the game, Colombia's Andrés Escobar deflected the ball into his own country's net. Escobar was shot and killed in Medellín shortly after the team's return from cup play. "It's something I still don't like talking about," Valderrama says.
El Pibe moved on in 1998 and became one of the first superstars to join Major League Soccer in the United States. He played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny during the 1996-97 season and for the now-defunct Miami Fusion the following season. "It was a lovely experience," Valderrama recalls. "It's a shame the team wasn't able to continue. Hopefully, Major League Soccer can happen in Miami again one day."