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