Soccer-Colombia fans dance their way into heart of Brazil

By Mary Milliken

CUIABA, Brazil, June 24 (Reuters) - The Colombian team may have the best goal celebration dance at this World Cup and their fans looks like they are having the best time of any contingent in Brazil.

An estimated 40,000 have descended on the western farm city of Cuiaba, site of their third and final match in Group C Tuesday against Japan. Colombia have already rewarded their fans with a spot in the knock-out stage with two strong wins in their first World Cup finals since 1998.

The Colombian caravan previously swarmed the cities of Belo Horizonte and Brasilia in their bright yellow, blue and red jerseys, reveling in the success that has coincided with economic growth back home and peace talks to end 50 years of war.

"Since Colombia has become a very good and safe place, we have a better economy so people can go out and see all of these beautiful things around the world," said Daniel Restrepo, a 26-year-old engineer traveling with his family.

It is not just the Colombian elite, however, that have traveled to neighboring Brazil.

Accountant German Emilio Gil-Cano, 59, opted for a bus trip for budget-minded travelers for the group stage games that cost him around $4,000, or less than a third of what he says he would have spent had he flown and stayed in hotels. He traveled roughly 8,000 km (5,000 miles) through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and southern Brazil just to get to the first game.

"This is the most I have ever done in my life," Gil-Cano said. "I am realizing a dream, because I've always wanted to go to the World Cup, to be part of it, because I love football."


In Cuiaba's Praca Popular square, hundreds of Colombians danced with Brazilians after host Brazil won Group A on Monday night. They were often asked to dance like the Colombian team, which have won over spectators with a well-choreographed tropical rhythmic dance after scoring goals.

"This is spectacular. You get caught up in this mini Carnival, sharing drinks, hugs and kisses, songs," said Alejandro Barrero, 27, from Bogota. "It couldn't be better."

Barrero, who came with a group of male friends, carried around a Colombian flag emblazoned with the words: "My girlfriend said 'It's either the Cup or me,'" with a small after note claiming "I think about her sometimes."

Some Colombians here will have to see the game against Japan in Cuiaba bars since the new Pantanal arena only holds 40,000 spectators.

Even though Colombia are already through to the last 16, fans are expecting their team to deliver one more robust victory to the legions who have come here to see them.

"To qualify with nine points would be a big injection of confidence," said Andres Benavides, 30. "Our future opponents will say: 'here comes the team that won all three games.' We have got to win." (Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan in Brasilia; editing by Keith Weir)