By Daniel Edwards | South American Football Writer
It was a match that sent shudders through some of Europe's biggest and richest football institutions. Amid the usual merry-go-round of transfer rumours, overinflated fees and misguided signings that always accompanies the crazy months of July and August, Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao had been largely overlooked. A devastating first-half hat-trick which earned the Colchoneros European Super Cup glory over Chelsea certainly showed the folly of ignoring this powerhouse striker.
Now with his name on everybody's lips, but with Atletico knowing they are safe for at least another four months from the vultures keenly watching their prized asset, Falcao's attention turns to his beloved Colombia. Born in the sweltering tropical paradise of Santa Marta, the striker has no problem playing just along the Caribbean coast in the more bustling Barranquilla; where this Friday in the Conmebol World Cup qualifying competition the Cafetero will host Uruguay and fellow scoring sensation, Edinson Cavani.
The pair's combined numbers in European football make staggering reading, especially considering the distinct lack of fanfare that accompanied them across the Atlantic. Cavani followed up a haul of 33 goals in 47 games in 2010-11 to fire Napoli into the Champions League, with almost identical figures the following season to become one of the most coveted players in the world. Those figures, however, look almost mundane compared to 'El Tigre'; 36 strikes in his debut Atletico season, following up two years with Porto in which he fell agonisingly short of netting a goal a game.
Part of the key to Falcao's brilliant form, especially in the second half of the season, was the arrival of Diego Simeone in Madrid. The two had worked together before, lifting the Argentine 2008 Clausura championship with River Plate in a tournament where, despite a relatively modest strike-rate, he attracted attention from across the world for his talents. The 26-year-old now has an Argentine in charge of the national team as well in the shape of Jose Pekerman, and although things have not gone all Colombia's way so far in the World Cup qualifiers, hopes are high that a golden generation containing James Rodriguez, Dorlan Pabon, Luis Muriel and Falcao himself can find the goals to send the nation to Brazil 2014.
While under previous coaches Radamel was expected to play as a sole forward, holding up the ball before laying off to overlapping wingers, Pekerman's tactics are far more worthy of the star. Rodriguez is Colombia's most exciting No. 10 since the shocking blonde afro of Carlos Valderrama, who hung up his boots over a decade ago, and, already having netted 11 in 36 international appearances, that much-anticipated partnership should see many more goals for the deadly centre-forward. His coach, for one, is delighted with the boost to morale that his star's recent form brings to the entire Cafetero set-up.
"[Falcao] is enjoying a stupendous run, and that motivates us a lot," Jose told reporters in the build-up to a must-win clash for his charges; and, having been the man who introduced an 18-year-old Lionel Messi to the international arena in his time at the helm of Argentina, this is one coach who knows talent when he sees it.
|KINGS OF THE NET
| CAVANI'S RECORD IN EUROPE (SINCE 2009)
|2009-10 (PALERMO, Apps/Gls)
| FALCAO'S RECORD IN EUROPE
2011-12 (ATL. MADRID)
Suarez though won't play in Barranquilla, carrying as he is a one-match suspension from the Celeste's previous World Cup run-out. Playing alongside two creative forces in the shape of Forlan and 'Cebolla' Rodriguez, Cavani will be moved into the centre and all eyes will be on him to provide the goals usually so expertly converted by the Liverpool man. Needless to say, there is no doubt that Napoli's goal machine should be up to the task.
Humble, softly spoken, shy of headlines and, above all, fiercely loyal to their nations; there is a great deal to admire in these two icons of South American football. Whoever triumphs in Barranquilla's Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Menendez, the eyes of the world should be on the two men that, with no great fanfare, have become the deadliest hitmen on the planet.