Colombia coach Luis Augusto Garcia had two reasons to rue the 88th-minute expulsion of forward Jairo Castillo against Brazil in a World Cup qualifier last November.
One was that Brazil made the most of their numerical advantage, scoring the only goal in injury time. The other was that Castillo’s automatic suspension deprived Garcia of his most effective player for subsequent preliminaries.
Castillo has put paid to observers who thought he was too raw for international football. In fact, ‘El Tigre’ has done full justice to his nickname – the tiger has shone brightly and struck decisively.
Without Castillo’s three goals in the first 10 qualifiers, Colombia’s campaign would be in serious problems. In Bolivia his pace and anticipation turned a moment of hesitation in the home defence into Colombia’s equaliser. Then, in brilliant fashion, he scored the only goal in successive games.
The Uruguay defence thought they had neutralised Castillo by forcing him on to his weaker left foot – and paid the price when his shot flew into the far corner. Then Chile were stunned when he converted Juan Pablo Angel’s cross with an overhead kick.
Castillo’s eye for goal and athletic dribbling ability have made him a star in Argentina with Velez Sarsfield, whom he joined last September. The team’s attack revolves around the relationship between Castillo and his gifted compatriot, playmaker Mayer Candelo.
‘In Colombiaall the players try to enjoy themselves,’ says Castillo. ‘But in Argentina it’s hard. Many players are only looking to do a marking job. I think it’s better to be able to do something with the ball when you receive it.’
The forward seems almost to cultivate the image of the happy-go-lucky Colombian, something that could harm his stated ambition of a move to Europe. ‘When I don’t have the ball,’ he says, ‘I tend to get annoyed and switch off. It’s why I’m often caught offside.’ Nevertheless, Parma, the former home of compatriot dancing master Faustino Asprilla, are known to be very interested.
For all Castillo’s assumed naivety, he is tactically sophisticated enough to give Garcia an option. When he plays 4-4-2, Castillo operates up front; when Garcia switches to 4-5-1, he can go wide.
Against Brazil his pace worried Cesar Sampaio into a series of off-the-ball obstructions. Eventually, Castillo’s patience snapped and he reacted. As so often, the cynical villain got away with the yellow card while the naive victim saw red. But after serving his suspension the tiger will be back to prey on defences. Tim Vickery
Club Velez Sarsfield (Arg)
Born November 17, 1977, in Tumaco
Previous clubs Bucaramanga, America de Cali
International debut March 1999, v Venezuela
International caps 11 (4 goals)
Honours Colombian championship 1997 (America); Merconorte Cup 1999