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June 2, 2014

Soccer-playing sheep honor World Cup

NOBSA, Colombia — It was a not so baaad performance for Colombia’s wooly warriors.

To celebrate the country’s return to the World Cup after a 16-year absence, artisans in the high Andean town of Nobsa put on what they billed as the first soccer match played by sheep Sunday.

On one side, dressed in specially made yellow jerseys and red shorts for Colombia’s national colors, were 10 four-legged players each named in honor of one of the country’s top soccer talents. Their rivals represented powerhouse Brazil, which hosts the monthlong tournament beginning June 12.

Some 500 spectators cheered on the farmyard footballers, which were trained for two weeks to recognize and kick a foam soccer ball through a rustic goalpost made of logs.

The hard work was little in evidence, though. Sheep are highly social animals, seeking safety from predators in large herds, and their shepherd handlers had to keep pulling on ropes tied to the animals’ necks to keep the bleating players scattered and moving so they wouldn’t end up munching lazily on what grass remained on the improvised pitch.

The final result was a 4-3 victory for Colombia, thanks to a goal in the final 50th minute by the mutton midfielder “James Rodriguez,” whose two-footed namesake plays for French club Monaco.

The publicity stunt was part of International Ruana Day, which honors local artisans who have been hand-spinning the poncho-like woolen wraps that are suited to the region’s climate more than 8,000 feet above sea level.

“The ruana is a global symbol, so it’s only natural that the sheep deserve to be honored,” said Ramiro Barragan, Nobsa’s mayor.

Ruanas are traditionally worn in their natural black or brown colors.

But Barragana and many others in Nobsa were sporting shawls dyed pink Sunday. That’s the color of the leader jersey in the grueling, three-week Giro d’Italia bicycle race, which was won Sunday by Colombia’s newest sports hero, Nairo Quintana. Quintana, the son of peasant farmers, was raised in the nearby highland town of Combita.

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