Radamel Falcao Garcia is, without doubt, one of football’s hottest properties right now. A relentless goalscorer for Atletico Madrid, who have built on last season’s success and are currently flying high in La Liga, he is also a leading light for a Colombia team that is fighting for a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Named in the 23-man shortlist for this year’s FIFA Ballon d’Or and author of one of the ten goals shortlisted for the FIFA Puskás Award, the man known as El Tigre (The Tiger) found time for an exclusive chat with FIFA.com. Among the items discussed were Colombia’s fine recent form, Jose Pekerman’s role in the side’s resurgence, recent comparisons between the current Cafetero crop and the golden generation of the 1990s, and his targets with Atletico.
FIFA.com: Falcao, Jose Pekerman told a press conference recently that Colombia would now qualify for the FIFA World Cup after missing out on the three previous editions. Would you go along with that?
Radamel Falcao Garcia: The World Cup is the goal we’re working towards. There’s still a long way to go in the South American qualifiers, but we realise we’re in a strong position. We’ll keep striving towards our target of competing in this great competition and hope to continue in the same vein for the remainer of the qualifying campaign.
How do you explain the fact that you’ve won more games on your travels than at home in these qualifiers?
It shows we’ve matured and grown as a team, both home and away, something that’s enabled us to remain strong on the road and win key games. That’s always a good thing and hopefully we can continue to do that.
The last time Colombia graced a FIFA World Cup was at France 1998, when you had players like Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon and Faustino Asprilla. Is the current generation comparable with that one?
We’re not looking to be compared with them. We want to make our own history and pave our own way, and do it with a different style of play. Hopefully we can go far without seeking to compare ourselves to the Colombian teams that have come before us.
At France 1998 you were just 12. What you do remember about that tournament?
I remember a great deal as I watched almost the entire thing. Colombia didn’t do well in the group phase and went out. Later we had [Zinedine] Zidane’s crowning achievement, but it was also a World Cup in which Ronaldo and [Gabriel] Batistuta scored a lot of goals. So yeah, I remember it well.
Brazil coach Mano Menezes said recently that Colombia “were more than just Falcao” and praised the work done by Jose Pekerman since assuming the reins. Was the arrival of the Argentinian the tipping point for Colombia or have other factors contributed to the team’s improvement in the race to Brazil?
Without a doubt, Pekerman’s arrival turned things round for Colombia in terms of the team’s football, results and self-confidence. He tried to give us the necessary belief to go out there with freedom and play the kind of football that we’re used to. That means always trying to compete toe-to-toe whether home or away and seeking to win, but without throwing caution to the wind. Today we’ve become a more mature and balanced team in South America.
Is getting the chance to compete at a FIFA World Cup your prime objective right now, and what other goals are you hoping to achieve?
Playing at a World Cup with my national team is my principle objective, although the goal is not only to qualify and take part, but also to play a prominent part once there. I believe we have a good team, and hopefully we’ll grow and improve a great deal both individually and as a group so that we first of all qualify then afterwards feature prominently in Brazil.
Will this FIFA World Cup be different with it being staged in Brazil?
Yes, of course. We’ll be closer to home and it’s Latin America, whose people share a certain affinity. So if we made it there, we’d enjoy a degree of support from the hosts.
Before then might we see another triumph for Atletico Madrid in La Liga?
There’s a long way to go, but we want to keep battling game by game and then we’ll see where we are come the end of the season. The most important thing is to keep winning games, so we keep racking up the points.
Finally, we must mention the remarkable technical progress you’ve made over the last year. When you started out you were known for powerful heading, but you now seem to have really worked on your left foot, as evidenced by almost identical goals against Chelsea, Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and Paraguay. Is that something you’ve been particularly focused on?
Yes, I have worked on it. When I have the chance to work on my own game in training, I try to fine-tune technical aspects of it. In this case I’ve tried to improve my left-foot shot a bit, and have seen results. What’s more, most the goals I’ve scored this season have been with my left. There’ve been some beautiful and really well-taken ones to tell you the truth. It’s always good to work on improving yourself every way you can.