BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Colombia's 16-year wait for a return to the World Cup was miserable enough for its supporters. Now they're coming to terms with a few setbacks before Colombia's Group C opener Saturday against Greece, including the loss of Radamel Falcao.
The star forward was cut from the squad last week after failing to recover in time from a serious knee injury. While Colombia has other attacking options, Falcao's exclusion is a psychological blow.
Coach Jose Pekerman described it as his "saddest day" since taking charge of "Los Cafeteros" when he dropped Falcao along with first-choice center back Luis Perea, who was carrying a thigh injury. Then, midfielder Aldo Ramirez was sent home with a foot injury sustained in a training session last week, days after Pekerman announced his final squad.
Falcao, nicknamed "El Tigre," will be sorely missed. The 28-year-old striker, who joined Monaco from Atletico Madrid, tore left knee ligaments in a French Cup game in January. He was key to Colombia's successful qualifying campaign, scoring nine goals — a record for the country.
Despite all the bad news, the squad remains optimistic about its chances in a group that also includes Ivory Coast and Japan. Colombia's main playmaker, James Rodriguez, points out that even without Falcao the team has a strong strike force which includes Carlos Bacca, Teofilo "Teo" Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez.
"The responsibility is weighing on us even more without Falcao, but we're not alone," the 22-year-old Rodriguez said. "The attack isn't going to change. It's the same. Apart from Falcao, we have Teo, Jackson and Bacca."
The Greece team considers its opener with Colombia at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte as the toughest match in the group, and is showing little sign of relief over Falcao's absence.
"Our aim is to get out the group," defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos said. "That would be a very big achievement for us ... the first match is the one that gives you strength or disappointment."
Greece broke a three-game scoring drought with a 2-1 win over Bolivia in friendly played in New York last week. Goal scorer Costas Katsouranis said the result showed his team was improving despite some trouble with finishing chances.
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