Radamel Falcao, Colombia’s superstar striker, will miss the 2014 Wold Cup after tearing his ACL in a French Cup match Wednesday with Monaco. Falcao joins England winger Theo Walcott as two of the biggest names already ruled out. Last week Neymar looked close to joining him, suffering an ankle injury playing for Barcelona, but the Brazilian star is expected back in a couple weeks.
This is obviously a tough blow for Colombia, which qualified for its first World Cup since 1998. Many observers pegged the Falcao-led squad — currently ranked No. 4 in the world by FIFA — as a tournament darkhorse. Online gambling sites listed the Colombians as high as 5-to-6 favorites to win Group C prior to the news of Falcao’s injury. Most betting sites also listed Colombia around 25-to-1 to win the tournament itself, but expect that number will plummet now that El Tigre is out.
The biggest beneficiary here may be the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants have been arguably the most talented team in Africa for most of the last decade, but had terrible luck at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. The Ivory Coast wound up with brutal draws in each tournament and failed to make the group stage. Oddsmakers have them around 9-to-2 to win Group C, which also includes Japan and Greece. My guess, Ivory Coast bumps up to a slight favorite over a Falcao-less Colombia by June.
Group C was about as wide-open and evenly-matched group as there was in the tournament and today’s Falcao news makes it almost a crapshoot with all four teams capable of winning it and advancing.
If there’s any good news for Colombia, it’s that forward is one spot on the field the team has some notable depth. In reserve Colombia can turn to Porto’s rapidly improving Jackson Martinez or Udinese’s Luis Muriel. As talented as those two might be, the loss of Falcao leaves a huge hole. Falcao arguably had been the best pure goal-scoring forward in Europe the last two seasons while at Atletico Madrid before his $80 million move to Monaco in the summer. During qualifying, he paced Colombia with nine goals, pushing his total to 20 in 50 international appearances. Since the 2011-12 season he’d scored 80 times in club competitions, helping Atletico win both the Europa League and Copa del Rey in that span. It’s a bummer the world won’t be able to see him do his thing on the biggest stage.
The worst part about the Falcao news is, given the nature of professional soccer where all it takes is one wrong step or one mistimed challenge to blow out a knee, a few other stars will likely join him on the sidelines before we kick off on June 12 in Sao Paulo. As a fan you want the best players healthy for a tournament that happens only once every four years, but unfortunately that’s impossible since we can’t wrap cruciate ligaments in bubble wrap.