Falcao form boosts troubled Colombia

BOGOTA - Radamel Falcao's four-goal performance for Porto on Thursday provided a welcome boost to the image of Colombian football which in recent weeks has been associated with cruelty to owls and dire financial problems.

Falcao, who scored a hat-trick at home to Spartak Moscow in the previous round, took his Europa League tally to 15 goals as free-scoring Porto hammered Villarreal 5-1 in their semi-final, first leg.

Porto's other goal was scored by fellow Colombian Fredy Guarin.

Yet almost simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic, Eduardo Pimentel, the president of first division club Boyaca Chico, was suggesting that the Colombian championship should be called off while clubs sorted out their finances.

Falcao, 25, is well on the way to becoming Colombia's most successful export and eclipsing the electric but wildly temperamental Faustino Asprilla, who played for Parma and Newcastle United in the 1990s.

Part of the Colombian team which hosted and won the South American under-20 championship, Falcao was raised at Argentina's River Plate and may have been helped by moving to Europe only two years ago at a relatively mature age.

Hopes are now high in the country that the same generation of players can take Colombia to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil for what would be their first appearance at the tournament for 16 years.

Although he has said he wants to stay at Porto and play for them in the Champions League next season, Falcao is likely to be targeted by Europe's biggest clubs, which could raise the profile of Colombian football still further.

Back home, however, football is in a critical situation.

On Wednesday, America - 13-times Colombian champions and four-times Libertadores Cup runners-up - became the third Colombian club in a fortnight to be handed a suspended ban over unpaid players' wages and social security contributions.

INJURED OWL

This followed similar sanctions to former South American champions Once Caldas and Deportes Quindio, the latter fielding a youth team in one match after their professionals went on strike.

All sanctions were handed down by the Colombian sports institute Coldeportes and the decision was welcomed by the players' union Acolfutpro.

"Since the establishment of Acolfutpro in 2004, we have asked the government repeatedly to prevent clubs who refuse to comply with the rules and do not pay salaries from taking part in the competition," the union said in a statement.

"After seven years of hard work, we managed to get Coldeportes to fulfil its obligations. It has suspended three clubs over unpaid wages and social security. And we expect that other clubs will also be sanctioned in the near future."

If this was not enough, Colombian football gained worldwide notoriety in February when Luis Moreno, a defender for struggling Pereira, tried to kick an injured owl off the pitch during a game away to Atletico Junior in Barranquilla.

The bird, which lived in the stadium, strayed onto the pitch and was hit by the ball before Panama defender Moreno tried to kick it into touch, causing a nationwide uproar and earning headlines worldwide. The bird later died.

Moreno was banned for two games and two weeks ago was given a seven-match suspension for kicking an opponent in the midriff.

On Thursday, he was given a fine of over $15,000 - a huge sum for most players in Colombia - by Barranquilla city's environmental office and ordered to do community work at a zoo.


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