By Ben Hayward
Colombia holds its breath. The South Americans' star striker Radamel Falcao will undergo tests in the coming days to establish the extent of the knee injury he suffered in Monaco's 3-0 win over fourth division side Chasselay in the Coupe de France on Wednesday night. But despite the lack of a confirmed prognosis, the forward's participation in the World Cup is reported to be hanging in the balance.
Falcao, who scored the opening goal in the cup clash, turned skilfully and advanced into the area, only to be met by a clumsy challenge from defender Soner Ertek, who was nowhere near the ball. The striker stayed down and was clearly in pain as he was forced to wait for medical staff to come to his aid, eventually leaving the pitch on a stretcher.
"I hope it's nothing serious," coach Claudio Ranieri said afterwards, but club captain Jeremy Toulalan was pessimistic. "We lost Radamel Falcao tonight and it looks quite serious," he said. "We are disappointed for him and the news is not reassuring."
Monaco are already five points behind rivals Paris Saint-Germain in the title race and Falcao's injury, if initial fears are confirmed, will be a big blow to Ranieri's side in their attempt to win the championship on their first season back in the top flight, even though the forward has been below his brilliant best in recent weeks.
Falcao's thoughts, however, are likely to be on the World Cup in Brazil. Will he be back in time? The striker - along with Colombia coach Jose Pekerman, team-mates and fans - now faces an anxious wait to discover his fate.
But they rely heavily upon Falcao. The former Atletico Madrid and Porto striker has 20 goals in 51 appearances for his national team, with almost half of those (nine) coming in South American qualifying for the World Cup.
Although a good team without him, Falcao lifts Colombia into a World Cup contender. His absence in Brazil would therefore represent an almighty blow for the South American side.
His injury is also bad news for neutrals. Falcao is one of the world's finest footballers and one of the planet's most feared strikers. He has already featured in several high-profile commercials in the build-up to Brazil 2014 and is one of the players fans will want to see on the game's greatest stage.
More worrying from his own point of view is the fact that this may be his last chance to play at the global showpiece. At 28, Falcao has yet to feature in a World Cup and with Brazil back in the 10-team qualifying group ahead of the next competition, there is no guarantee Colombia will make it to Russia 2018.
With the World Cup now less than six months away, injuries to important players are already beginning to pile up. England winger Theo Walcott has been ruled out of the competition after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament, while Germany's Sami Khedira is doubtful after suffering a similar injury in November and Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi faces a battle to be fit after aggravating the knee problem which saw him sidelined for 18 months after the initial injury in October 2011.
All big losses if they miss out, but Falcao's absence would be felt even greater. A World Cup lives off its star performers and participating teams need their best footballers. So for Falcao's sake, for that of Colombia and the competition itself, let's hope the striker's injury isn't as bad as first feared.
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