Perea medal no consolation for World Cup woe

HAMBURG - Atletico Madrid's Colombia defender Luis Amaranto Perea was delighted with his Europa League winners medal but said it did not make up for the disappointment of failing to qualify for the World Cup.

Perea has been a regular for Colombia since 2003 but, for the second time in his international career, they have endured the frustration of failing to make the finals.

"Nothing compares to playing at the World Cup," the central defender told Reuters after Atletico's 2-1 win over Fulham after extra time in Wednesday's final.

"A title at club level gives me enormous satisfaction, but the best thing that can happen to a player is to defend the colours of your country in a World Cup."

"The truth is that we need to play at the World Cup again."

Perea, who joined Atletico in 2004, is the second Colombian to win a European club trophy, following in the footsteps of Faustino Asprilla who twice won the UEFA Cup with Parma.

Colombia qualified for three successive World Cups between 1990 and 1998 with a generation including the mercurial Asprilla, wiry-haired Carlos Valderrama and Fredy Rincon, but they have not reached the finals since.

OLD GENERATION

Valderrama was 37 when he played at France in 1998 and Perea said the Colombians had paid the price for relying on the old generation for too long.

"I think we took too long to bring in the younger players and mix them with the older generation," he said.

"It's a change which has been very difficult for us to make. I think we have to plan things well if we want to get to the 2014 World Cup."

But he said the reappointment of Hernan Dario Gomez, who led Colombia in 1998 and took neighbouring Ecuador to their first World Cup four years later, could spark a revival.

"He knows Colombian football, he knows how things work, he knows how to take a team to the World Cup," said Perea.

"We have confidence in him, we are going to give everything on our part, I hope we can find a good squad and get the maximum from them."

In the meantime, he will have to support his Atletico team mates Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero, who are heading for the finals in South Africa with Uruguay and Argentina respectively.

"Unfortunately, I'm not going to be there but I'm going to cross my fingers and will a South American team to win the World Cup," said Perea.

The month-long World Cup starts on June 11.

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