Currently banging in the goals for Portuguese giants Porto, Colombian striker Radamel Falcao was one of the stars of his country’s last appearance at a FIFA U-20 World Cup, which came in the Netherlands in 2005. The then River Plate forward found the net twice in the group phase to ease Los Cafeteros into the Round of 16, where they were ousted 2-1 by eventual champions Argentina thanks to a Julio Barroso goal in the third minute of injury time.
With the next edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup to be held on Colombian soil in 2011, the gifted front-runner believes visiting teams and fans will thoroughly enjoy everything the South American nation has to offer, including delightful cuisine, stunning scenery, welcoming people, full stadiums and passion for the beautiful game.
FIFA.com: What’s the overriding feeling in Colombia at the chance to host an event of the scale of the FIFA U-20 World Cup?
Radamel Falcao: I think that the whole country is determined to host a great World Cup and is very happy with the level of exposure they’re going to get. The whole world will see what great people Colombians are and, what’s more, I believe that there’ll be packed stadiums during the event and plenty of passion from the supporters.
Do you think the fact Colombia have missed out on world football’s biggest tournaments in recent years will boost interest in this competition still further?
Of course. We’re going to prove that we’re a football-loving country, while it’s been a long time since Colombia hosted an event of this magnitude. It seems to me that the organisers and the government have done everything they can to get people behind the event, build great stadiums and put everything in place for it to be a great show.
What does Colombia have to offer for visiting fans?
Just for starters there are the contrasting cities, wonderful scenery, incredibly varied cuisine and friendly people. I hope that the tourists really enjoy getting to know my country.
And what can this FIFA U-20 World Cup do for Colombia?
First of all it could improve our image. For many years people abroad have only heard bad news about Colombia, with news of the many good things that happen not reaching the international community. I think this is the perfect opportunity to change all that and make the rest of the world realise what an extraordinary country Colombia is and how fantastic its people are.
What do you remember about the Netherlands 2005?
I found it a very enriching experience, both as a footballer and a person. I’d always dreamt of taking part in competitions like this and I’ll remember it forever. On top of that I was fortunate enough to score a couple of goals which was really great. It was just a shame that we lost to Argentina in the Round of 16 thanks to a goal right at the end. But anyway, that’s football.
How well can Colombia do at the 2011 event?
Colombia have had good sides at youth level for a few years now, they’ve stepped up a notch and a great performance is no pipedream. We’ve got a good team and if they can find a bit more consistency then challenging for the title is a possibility. But of course we’ll also need a slice of luck.
What advice would you give to those Colombian youngsters preparing to appear at a FIFA U-20 World Cup?
They should be convinced of their own quality and the fact they make a great team. They should forget the name and the history of the opponents they’ll come up against and make sure they give everything they’ve got on the pitch, in every minute of every game. If they can do that results will go their way and they can go very far.
Do you intend to attend any games first-hand?
I’m still not sure. I’m expecting to be part of Colombia’s squad at the Copa America, and if that’s the case I won’t be able to attend (the FIFA U-20 World Cup). But, one way or another, I’ll be totally behind the national team.
Hernan Dario Gomez is back in charge of Los Cafeteros’ senior squad. What can he bring to the team?
He can be a huge help because he’s got vast international experience, having previously taken part in World Cups with Colombia and Ecuador. He’s very aware of how to tackle the qualifying stage in order to reach the World Cup. He’s going to help us win games, because I’m certain he’s going to build a great team and give it a huge amount of confidence.
‘El Bolillo’ Gomez’s first major challenge will be the Copa America 2011, to be held in Argentina. Does the fact it’ll be hosted in a country where you spent many years make it even more important to you?
It’s fantastic, I feel very at home in Argentina. I lived there for many years, I’ve got great memories of that time and a lot of friends there. Pulling on the Colombia shirt and playing in Argentina will be very special.
How do you think Colombia will fare?
We’ve got just as good a chance as any other country. We want to put Colombia back where it belongs on the footballing map and we’ll fight to go as far as possible in every tournament we take part in. That’s our mindset and we’re looking forward to starting a new cycle with our new coach.
Did you follow the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™? Given Colombia were not involved, which team did you support?
I followed the World Cup very closely and I really enjoyed the competition. As Colombia weren’t there I was rooting for Argentina, because of all the years I lived there, and also for Portugal because I’m really happy here. But I really liked Spain’s brand of football, they always played very nice stuff, and they deserved to be world champions.
Finally, you’re now into your second year at Porto. Having finished second in the top flight’s scoring charts in 2009/10, what are your hopes for this season?
I’m feeling really good. My first year went very well and I’ve got high hopes for this new season. Porto always want to win every competition they enter because that’s the attitude everyone who works at the club has. We’ve got a fantastic squad and, if we keep working as hard as we’ve done so far, we’ll be successful.