The boy from Bolivia shows Colombia the way
At the halfway stage in South America's World Cup qualifiers the top scorer is Joaquin Botero of Bolivia.
He had plenty to celebrate on Saturday - he scored twice to help his side to a 3-0 win over Peru and in the process became Bolivia's all-time leading marksman and the first man on the continent to score five goals in the current campaign.
This last achievement is all the more remarkable given that Botero was not even selected for the first few matches. But in three starts plus 25 minutes off the bench he has one more goal to his name than the entire Colombia team have managed in nine games.
Goals have been a huge problem for Colombia in recent times. But until last month's rounds they could at least boast about being the only unbeaten side in the field. Not any more.
They have now suffered three straight defeats, gone four games without a goal and five without a win - and on Wednesday night they are away to Brazil. Down in seventh place in the table, they are on course to miss out on the World Cup for the third time running.
But the truth is that although they won the Copa America on home ground in 2001, they have so far proved unable to build on the progress made by the 80s/90s generation spearheaded by frizzy-haired midfielder Carlos Valderrama.
The current Peruvian side, for example, are bottom of the qualification table.
It was, concluded the Colombians, a case of a spontaneous generation of players appearing and then not being replaced. This was not going to happen to them. They put resources into their youth sides. In 2003 they came third in the World Youth Cup. Two years later they were South American Under-20 champions.
Many of these players have since graduated to the senior side. But very few of them have fulfilled their promise. Some have suffered the consequences of a premature move to Europe. Others have found it hard to deal with wealth and fame.
There is also the question of the type of players being produced.
Former national team coach Hernan Dario Gomez recently complained that "the style of Colombian football has changed a lot, and it's not to my liking. It's a style that looks for tall players, with strength, speed, power and with little talent and ball skills".
"Our old style of possession football is criticised heavily here," he said. "People say you have to be more direct, get the ball forward quickly, you shouldn't pass the ball around so much - and because of this the joy and the talent have finished."
There is much in what he says, though Colombia are not totally without talent. What seems to be lacking is ideas or identity.
Take midfielder Freddy Guarin, now of Porto. He has some ability. But in Saturday's 1-0 defeat at home to Paraguay he was not successful in applying it. Time and time again he tried to make space for his trademark rocket right-foot shot.
It was easily blocked because there was no surprise, or because sufficient space had not been created.
"Forget the goal and look for a team-mate. Keep passing and in the end the goal will appear" - it was the way that Colombia played in the days of Valderrama, and it was beautiful and hypnotic to watch.
Perhaps part of the move away from that short passing style is a reaction to the failure (with tragic consequences for assassinated defender Andres Escobar) of Colombia to live up to their billing in the 1994 World Cup.
Pele had included them among the favourites. They were carrying the hopes of a nation which at the time was tearing itself apart in an orgy of narco-violence. It was all too much for the team to cope with.
Their first-round elimination in USA '94 makes it easy to forget just how good that Colombia side really were. Going into the competition they had suffered one defeat in 34 games - a run which included an extraordinary 5-0 win away to Argentina.
It remains the only time Argentina have been beaten at home in World Cup qualification. Wednesday's opponents Brazil have still never lost a qualifier at home. Ending that run would be a wonderful way to kick-start Colombia's drive to South Africa. They haven't scored in four games, Brazil haven't conceded in four games. Maybe this time Freddy Guarin will stick one in from the half way line.
Comments on this article in the space below - other questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple next week.
From last week's postbag:
How do you rate Christian Benitez? He is pumping in the goals for Santos and helped them win the Mexican Clasura in 2008 and he seems to be tagged as Ecuador's future talisman. He has drawn some interest from Spanish and Portuguese clubs.
An excellent player - a sinuous dribbler, two-footed and not bad in the air as well as he showed scoring the only goal against Chile on Sunday. It's a pity he overdid the celebrations and picked up a yellow card which rules him out of Wednesday's trip to Venezuela.
I believe his father, Ermen, was the first Ecuadorian to be transferred to Europe - he spent a year in the Spanish second division some 20 years ago. The son has the ability to go further.
The issue of booing has come up because of what happened to Ashley Cole playing for England this week. I understand that Brazil and their manager Dunga were booed off in home games playing Argentina and Bolivia recently. What do players and fans and managers think about booing in South America?
Brazilian crowds are notorious for turning against their own team. I remember the World Cup qualifier against Colombia in Sao Paulo eight years ago.
A newspaper had handed out little Brazilian flags, and in protest at the team's performance (they won with a goal from a corner in injury time) the fans were throwing these flags onto the pitch. Some people debated whether this constituted treason. No, wrote a highly respected veteran journalist - treason was the kind of football played today by the national team. It's not always easy representing the nation.
Some argue that nowadays the Brazil team gets booed because the fans see them as mercenaries who have gone to Europe for money. But in fact it has always gone on, even when they were all still based in Brazil. There's a saying that in order to be world champions Brazil first need to be booed by their own fans. If it's true then they have to be in the running to come out on top in South Africa.