Yepes still has the wind in his sails
Rio de Janeiro: Age has not wearied Colombian captain Mario Yepes and the man nicknamed Captain Jack Sparrow isn`t ready yet to walk the plank in terms of his international career as he prepares to take on Uruguay on Saturday.
Unlike many of his generation, the 38-year-old, the same age as Cameroon legend Roger Milla when he broke Colombian hearts in the last 16 of the 1990 World Cup finals, has managed to appear at a World Cup finals, something Colombia had not achieved since 1998.
Reserve goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is the only member of the present squad to have been in the one in France.
"I have fulfilled an objective which has left on the side of the road a lot of players who fought alongside me and who have not been able to accompany me here," said the central defender, who is known in Italy as the pirate hero played by Johnny Depp in the successful film franchise `Pirates of the Caribbean`.
Thanks to his extraordinary longevity at the top level he has accrued several nicknames along the way, including `Marshal` to Colombians for his authority, `Brave heart` to his team-mates, while in his days at French club Nantes he was simply `the King`.
Yepes remains the rock of the Colombian central defence as he proved in the World Cup qualifiers where they had the meanest defence conceding 13 goals in 16 matches.
"Yepes, is the epitome of the word experience," said Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina.
"He is our captain, we respect him a lot and each time he plays he gives everything out on the pitch."
Yepes, married with three children, is humble about his role in the team and which he has captained since 2008.
"I am perhaps the oldest first choice player at the World Cup finals," he said.
"However, I don`t feel my age. I accept I am an experienced player at the heart of this team but I think of myself as one of them, nothing more."
Yepes, who was part of the Colombia side that lifted the Copa America in 2001 -- the one and only time they have been crowned South American champions -- will win his 101st cap on Saturday, 10 short of the national record of 111 held by legendary playmaker Carlos Valderrama.
Yepes, who was rested for the final group game against Japan as Colombia were already assured of their place in the second round, admits the fast paced attacking style Argentine coach Jose Pekerman has introduced does leave the defence gasping for breath at times.
"Colombia is a balanced team," he said.
"We are based round attacking and open football and when we play like that it is the defenders who suffer most, but we are ready for that."
Pekerman, for his part, could not be more effusive in his praise for his captain.
"I congratulate Mario for reaching 100 caps, but especially for his character," said Pekerman, who is at his second finals having guided his native Argentina to the last eight in 2006.
"He has the personality to be captain of this team because he is mentally strong and he is an example to all his team-mates."
Yepes, who has had spells at several clubs including Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and now Atalanta, won`t even envisage retiring immediately after Colombia`s interest ends in Brazil.
"We will draw our conclusions when the finals are over," he said.
"For the moment, I want to make the most of this World Cup, to live the dream I had as a kid, because when you start playing football, no matter where, you dream to play at the World Cup finals."