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Falcao's Colombia mission against England smacks of revenge
Four years ago injury forced Radamel Falcao into a spectator’s role as Colombia surged into the last eight of the World Cup.
It was an absence all the more galling because his nine goals in the South American qualifying campaign had been the catalyst for the country’s first appearance at the tournament since 1998.
But an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament sustained in January 2014 scuppered his dream of playing at the fest.
On Tuesday in Moscow, the 32-year-old has the chance to lead the side into another quarter-final at the expense of England.
And it would be revenge of a kind. Falcao went to Manchester United and Chelsea as he tried to resuscitate his career following the injury. But in his 40-odd games over two campaigns, he scored five goals.
"There are times when one breaks down," he told Colombian newspaper El Tiempo of his time in England. "There are difficult situations that one cannot contain and like any human being, I cried."
His return to Monaco at the start of the 2016-17 season was the start of redemption. He scored 30 goals as he skippered the side to the 2017 Ligue 1 championship. Kylian Mbappé, Bernardo Silva and Tiemoué Bakayoko, his young cohorts in that title winning surge, have been absorbed into the Paris-Saint German, Manchester City and Chelsea industrial complexes.
The England manager, Gareth Southgate, said on the eve of the last 16 match at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow that he would not underestimate the veteran striker.
“I saw him when he played at Atletico Madrid,” said Southgate. “And he was incredible. It takes a good 18 months to recover from what he went through. He appears to have rediscovered his touch at Monaco and certainly when he plays for his country, his movement in the penalty area is outstanding.”
Falcao proved as much on 24 June in the Group H game against Poland when he scored Colombia’s second goal in their 3-0 win in Kazan. "It's the goal I've been dreaming of since I was a child," he said. "I realise that all of Colombia had been waiting for this moment, supporting me, lifting me at difficult times, and in the end I want to thank the Colombian people for being with me unconditionally."
Following their 1-0 victory over Senegal on 28 June, Colombia finished top of the group with six points.
Southgate said his men, who conceded three goals in their three Group G matches, will be on their guard to ensure Falcao does not repeat such pyrotechnics. “We know the quality of his finishing,” added Southgate. “And he is not going to be judged on the basis of his time in the English Premier League, that’s for sure.”