Radamel Falcao has always dreamed about playing in the World Cup and looked set to do so after helping Colombia book their place in this summer’s event in Brazil by scoring nine times in qualifying. But after a clumsy foul in the Coupe de France clash against minnows Monts d’Or Azergues, Radamel Falcao’s World Cup dream lies in tatters. An ill timed tackle from behind resulted in anterior cruciate ligament damage to Falcao’s right knee and has ruled him out for the rest of the season. With the recovery time for this type of injury usually between six to nine months, Falcao’s chances of making the 2014 World Cup are slim. Surgery on his knee the day after the match has given him a slim chance of making it, but even then he might not be ready. Falcao faces an uphill battle to be ready both physically and mentally, with the latter likely to be the hardest test of all. The psychological effects of extended time on the sidelines due to injury can take its toll on any player but the fear of a reoccurrence of the injury can be even worse. Without enough time to get in some practice matches before the World Cup kicks off, Falcao could be dropped into the high octane environment that is the group stages.
Played at a hundred miles per hour with every moment made to count, the group stages of a World Cup have historically been injury laden affairs. England fans will remember the 2006 World Cup where they watch star striker Michael Owen collapse during the group stage match against Sweden after rupturing his cruciate ligament and ending his World Cup. Having been out injured for a spell before the tournament, Owen was rushed back in order to make the squad that went to Germany as he was seen as England’s best forward option by coach Sven Goran Eriksson. He managed to play the first two games in the group stage but in truth Owen was not fully fit. As he fell to the ground in the 1st minute of the final group game against Sweden, Owen knew that it was a direct effect of not being able to rest before the tournament and fully recover. The injury Owen suffered in the 2006 World Cup was not a career ending one but he never fully recovered the form and speed that had made him famous and eventually retired after several disappointing season back in England. The fear for Falcao is that he rushes back to play and suffers a similar fate as Owen, ending what has been an electric career so far.
If he can make the tournament, then all eyes will fall on head coach José Pékerman and how he uses his star player. With Colombia pitted in a winnable group against Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan, they could afford to rest Falcao and slowly introduce him into the tournament, preparing him for the knock out stages instead. But if they struggle in their first match against Greece, Pekerman may be forced to turn to Falcao to ensure qualification. Failure to qualify from the group stage for Colombia is not an option and its passionate fans. Having failed to do so in the last two tournaments they competed in (1994 + 1998), Pekerman is keen to have his team progress and was building his team around Falcao. But following the Monaco frontman’s injury, Pekerman has had to put his faith in others like Teófilo Gutiérrez, Jackson Martinez, Carlos Bacca and Luis Muriel. Bacca has been in good form since his move to Sevilla in the summer and could be selected to start in Brazil in place of Falcao alongside either Martinez or Gutierrez. Given the choice though, Pekerman would choose Falcao ahead of all others as he recognizes that he is without question the best striker in the world right now.
Regardless of where you come from or which country you will be supporting at the World Cup, everyone is hoping that Falcao can recover in time to participate. After all, the World Cup should be about the world’s best teams and in them the world’s greatest players. With Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wales Gareth Bale already missing out due to their respective countries failing to qualify, fans will be hoping Falcao won’t be added to this list too.