French Connection: Radamel Falcao leading Monaco’s fight for survival

It has been no secret that Thierry Henry has had a difficult start to life in the Monaco dugout, but Colombia international striker Radamel Falcao has provided the Stade Louis II side with hope of dragging themselves away from the foot of the standings of late.

At 32, the striker has been granted an immense amount of responsibility this season. His burden has only increased by the club’s lack of form and the plethora of youngsters thrust in around him due to an incredible injury crisis that shows little sign of abating.

Having taken to the front line of Monaco’s push for redemption after, at one point, tumbling to 19th in Le Championnat, Falcao has been forced to take his share of criticism this season, notably after missing a penalty against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

For Henry, though, the South American remains a precious talisman, an ace in his pack when all else fails.

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Priceless recent wins over Caen and Amiens have both been achieved largely thanks to ‘El Tigre’. Neither was a spectacular team performance from the principality side, yet the individual quality and cool head of their striker has allowed them to garner six points at the homes of two direct rivals for the drop.

Monaco’s first win of the Henry era came in Normandy, where a picture-perfect free-kick from Falcao was the difference between the sides.

Little wonder then, the coach was so keen to defend him in the aftermath of the Atletico penalty miss.

“He gave us the win in Caen, I remember that. Do you remember it?” he snapped at a journalist when questioned over the forward’s form.

“He was the one who took the ball, who took responsibility and scored. He’s doing just fine.”

As if to better emphasise the coach’s point, Falcao was again decisive on Tuesday in Amiens. Again his team struggled to create chances but again the captain came up with the goods, netting a couple of penalties to drag his team out of the relegation zone for the first time since September 21.

Given his miss a week earlier in Spain, when he admitted he had “the opportunity to change the game” at his feet, it showed a formidable degree of mental fortitude.

Indeed, the course of Monaco’s whole season might just have been on his shoulders at Stade de la Licorne, where defeat would have plunged them back into crisis.

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Yet the forward has long been used to taking responsibility for matters in the principality, where he has shone since signing from Atletico Madrid in 2013, despite two difficult seasons on loan in the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.

He has scored 55 goals in 88 Ligue 1 outings and played a pivotal role as Monaco won the title in 2016-17 and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League that same season.

That is, of course, beyond them now, but Falcao’s quality still remains appreciated around Europe, with Real Madrid still linked with a potential January swoop.

For his part, the player appears content to remain and spearhead the Henry revolution.

“Come back and ask me about Real Madrid when my contract ends, then we’ll see what happens,” he said last month when questioned about a potential switch back to the Spanish capital, where he enjoyed stellar success in the red and white stripes of Atleti.

Henry, therefore, can expect to have another 18 months of the forward, whose deal expires in 2020 – and given the decisive quality he has provided for the team of late, that can only be music to the rookie coach’s ears.

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Falcao open to Atletico Madrid return at end of Monaco contract

Monaco striker Radamel Falcao has left the door open for a return to Atletico Madrid after taking on his former club in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Falcao came on as a substitute and missed an 83rd-minute penalty in a 2-0 defeat against Atletico that ensured Monaco will finish bottom of Group A.

The Colombia international scored 70 goals in 91 matches over two seasons with Atleti and was presented with a framed photograph prior to kick-off.

Falcao’s contract at Monaco is due to expire at the end of next season and he hinted at a desire to return to the club where he won the Europa League in 2011-12 and the UEFA Super Cup and Copa del Rey the following season.

“We never know in the future. Obviously, Atletico Madrid will always be in my heart. I don’t know, maybe once my contract at Monaco finished, I don’t know what will happen. I am always supporting Atletico Madrid,” said the 32-year-old, before describing what it felt like to go up against his former employers.

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“Mixed feelings, a great welcome of the fans, lovely as usual. But we have to turn the page because we have a final at home next Saturday [against Montpellier].”

On the gift he received from the club, he added: “I am always grateful and happy. Not just for the trophies or goals, but the people were really thankful for the effort and the engagement.

“That’s something I identify with. They are the values of this club. I am so thankful and I will keep this souvenir forever.”

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Henry honoured to face Simeone as Monaco fight for Europa League spot

Thierry Henry has described it as “an honour” to come up against Diego Simeone as he attempts to keep Monaco’s Europa League hopes alive.

The Ligue 1 side cannot progress to the Champions League last 16, having taken just one point from their opening four Group A games, and a win over Atletico Madrid on Wednesday is needed to give them a realistic chance of finishing third.

Henry’s side come in having finally broken through under the former France international, defeating Caen last weekend 1-0. 

Not only was that their first win under Henry, but it was also Monaco’s first victory in any competition since August.

However, the trip to the Wanda Metropolitano represents one of Henry’s toughest tests since taking charge in October and the former Arsenal star admits it will be a challenge to take anything from Simeone’s side.

Still, he insists his players will have no fear of a team they lost to 2-1 back in September and looks forward to the experience of facing off against one of the game’s finest managers. 

“He’s one of the best coaches around at the moment,” Henry told a news conference when asked about Simeone. “It’s an honour to come up against him. I have a lot to learn.

“I’ve been studying Atletico for a long time – I know what we need to watch out for and which players can make the difference. We know they never give up and have fantastic supporters.

“There’s a slim chance of getting into the Europa League, but it’ll be tough. We’re playing with young players. We’re not scared.”

Striker Radamel Falcao is looking forward to taking on his old club on their own turf and hopes to help some of Monaco’s younger players not to be overawed by the occasion.

“It’s always good to be able to return to Atletico’s stadium, it’s been a while since I’ve done so,” said Falcao, who won three trophies with the club between 2011 and 2013. “I’ll always have the moments and memories from here. Meeting the fans and the club again will bring lots of emotions.

“Since the start of the season, we haven’t had all our players available. The coach has had to rely on young players and academy players. Our role as more experienced players is to trust in them so that they can give 100 per cent for the team.”

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New Monaco boss Henry praises ‘charismatic leader’ Falcao

New Monaco coach Thierry Henry praised Radamel Falcao, hailing the forward as his team’s “charismatic leader” as they look to turn their season around.

Falcao has netted four Ligue 1 goals this season, but Monaco are struggling in 18th place in the table.

Henry has now come in to replace Leonardo Jardim at the helm as the club looks to turn its season around. 

The former Arsenal and Barcelona star has cited the lessons learned from Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola as key to his own development as a coach , but one thing he won’t have to worry about is finding a goalscorer to lead the line. 

Colombia international Falcao, who has scored 54 goals for Monaco across the past two campaigns, will be key to any turnaround for the Ligue 1 side this season, and his new manager was full of praise for the 32-year-old. 

“[Falcao] is our goalscorer, our charismatic leader. Everyone knows what he represents for this team,” he said on Thursday.

“I am happy that he is back, not only him but all the players, as we try to get a good result at Strasbourg.

“We know it won’t be easy. Last game we know that they couldn’t hold on for victory. Maybe a good game to watch, but let’s work and see what we can do there.

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“It was short, [Friday] is already one day before the game. So we need to work and video is our best friend these days.”

Monaco have just one win in nine league games this season ahead of their trip to ninth-placed Strasbourg.

Henry will also get his first taste of the Champions League as a manger next week against Club Brugge, with the club having lost twice is two outings so far. 

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‘Terrible’ Monaco must raise heads, blasts Falcao

Monaco striker Radamel Falcao has blasted his side’s start to the season as “terrible” after they slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Saint-Etienne on Friday to extend their winless run in Ligue 1 to seven games.

Leonardo Jardim’s side finished as runners-up to PSG last term but have since endured a torrid new campaign, with an opening day victory over Nantes their only maximum points return.

Two goals from Wahbi Khazri further compounded their misery in the top flight at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, a result that kept them in 18th, five points above Guingamp at the bottom of the table.

They next travel to Germany on Wednesday to face Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Falcao has demanded an improved performance from his team-mates, citing their inability to offer a robust defence as a major cause of their struggles.

“It’s not just against Saint-Etienne, it’s a terrible start to the championship,” the Colombia international told Canal+.

“We have not managed to be as effective as expected and we have not been able to defend in the best way.

“We cannot go on like that, we have to raise our heads because on Wednesday we have to go to Dortmund to get a good result.”

Making his debut for Lanceros Boyaca at the age of 13 in 1999, Falcao has enjoyed an illustrious European career since joining Porto in 2009.

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A double Europa League winner in consecutive seasons with the Portuguese outfit and Atletico Madrid, he arrived at Monaco in 2013 and has since spent loan spells with both Manchester United and Chelsea.

At international level, Falcao has won 79 caps for Colombia, and has netted 31 times to become the country’s all-time top scorer.

Following their clash with Dortmund, Monaco return to Ligue 1 duty when they host Rennes on October 7.

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Hard work is the key to ending Atletico slump, says Simeone

Diego Simeone insists the only way Atletico Madrid can end their current slump is through hard work. 

The Argentinian leads his side into Champions League action on Tuesday against Monaco looking to turn around a poor start to the season, as they have picked up just five points from their opening four La Liga games. 

Such an underwhelming return has already seen them fall seven points behind league leaders Barcelona, but Simeone says he has seen enough to suggest Atleti are moving in the right direction. 

“We have had ups and downs, with good match passages,” he said at his pre-match media conference. 

“The other day [a 1-1 draw with Eibar] there were good things. The only improvement I know in football is through work, it is the only way for the team to grow.”

Simeone will come up against Leonardo Jardim at the Stade Louis II and he was full of praise for his opposite number ahead of the game.

“Monaco have a very intelligent coach,” he added.

“The team has always had to reinvent itself each year and that speaks very well of the coach, who has managed to make the team competitive. 

“It has a defined style and many possibilities.”

One of those possibilities is Radamel Falcao, who played under Simeone at Atleti between 2011 and 2013.

“He behaved marvellously in the dressing room – we will give each other a hug,” Simeone replied when asked about the Colombian forward.

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Atleti’s Wanda Metropolitano will host this year’s Champions League final, but midfielder Koke insists they are not getting carried away about the chance of playing in the showpiece fixture on home soil.

“For the club to host a Champions League final is something incredible that two or three years ago would have been impossible,” he said.

“Our philosophy is to go from day to day and the important thing is to pass the group stage. That is what makes you continue in this competition and we are going to go for it.”

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Monaco keen for Falcao stay amid Milan and China move talk

Monaco never had any plans to sell Radamel Falcao during the transfer window because he remains an integral part of their squad, according to vice-president Vadim Vasilyev.

Falcao has enjoyed two prolific seasons in the principality since difficult loan spells with Chelsea and Manchester United in the Premier League, the Colombian scoring 39 goals in 55 Ligue 1 appearances.

Despite his impressive form, the 32-year-old was linked with a move away from Monaco, with AC Milan and the Chinese Super League reported destinations.

But Vasilyev wants Falcao to see out his current contract in Monaco, which still has another two years to run.

“AC Milan never contacted me for him and I read a lot of things about it,” Vasilyev told L’Equipe.

“The rumours about China was true. I don’t believe it anymore. The transfers window is shut, and they [the CSL] have introduced a luxury tax on transfers that makes it unlikely to put so much money on such a player.

“And then we want to keep him, he is the pillar of our project. I would like [that] he [will] go [to] the end of his contract.”

Although Falcao remained, the likes of Thomas Lemar, Fabinho, Joao Moutinho and Rachid Ghezzal all left the Stade Louis II over the close season.

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That has meant another unsettled time for the club, something Vasilyev is keen to put an end to.

“In the future we would like to bring more stability and make less changes from one season to the next,” he added. “But without changing the project.

“We realise that balance is hard to find.”

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Colombia victims of ‘monumental theft’ in England defeat, claims Maradona

Argentina legend Diego Maradona believes Colombia were victims of a “monumental theft” in their World Cup last-16 defeat to England and laid into the performance of referee Mark Geiger.

Maradona, whose famous ‘Hand of God’ goal helped knock England out of the 1986 World Cup, nailed his colours to the Colombian mast after Argentina were eliminated at the hands of France and was pictured wearing the team’s jersey on social media.

However, Colombia’s hopes were ended by a 4-3 shoot-out loss, despite Yerry Mina’s second-half stoppage-time goal cancelling out Harry Kane’s penalty to earn a 1-1 draw after extra time.

Jose Pekerman’s side received six bookings in a tempestuous match, but Maradona says Colombia can feel robbed and questioned the decision of FIFA referee chief Pierluigi Collina to appoint American official Geiger.

Speaking to teleSUR, he said: “I saw a monumental theft on the pitch. I apologise to all the Colombian people, but the players are not to blame for this.

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“Here is a gentleman [Collina] who is the one who decides to choose a referee by just googling him. He cannot be put in to referee a match of this magnitude.”

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Maradona, whose celebration of Argentina’s dramatic win over Nigeria that sealed a place in the knockout stages will provide one of the lasting memories of Russia 2018, was particularly scathing of Geiger’s decision to award a spot-kick to England when Kane was dragged to ground by Carlos Sanchez.

When asked what his biggest objection was, he replied: “The penalty. The penalty was not a penalty.

“It was Kane’s fault. The rules allow for VAR assistance, yes or no? Why did he not ask for the VAR? It is not possible, this has to be denounced.”

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Falcao slams ‘shameful’ referee for ‘favouring’ England against Colombia

Radamel Falcao has accused referee Mark Geiger of showing bias towards England in their win over Colombia in the World Cup last 16 on Tuesday.

The South American side fell behind in their knockout tie against the Three Lions through a second-half penalty and had six players booked over the 120 minutes before losing 4-3 in the shootout.

Colombia conceded 23 fouls as well, 10 fewer than Gareth Southgate’s side in a tight encounter, but Falcao believes his team were at a disadvantage because of the United States referee.

“I found it peculiar that they put an American referee in this instance… to tell you the truth, the process leaves a lot of doubts,” he told reporters.

“He only spoke English, some bias was certain. Through small calls he was pushing us [toward] our goal, that was clear for me.

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“The referee disturbed us a lot, in the 50-50 plays, he always made the calls in favour of England. This situation was undermining us. He didn’t act with the same criteria for both teams.

“When in doubt he always went to the England side. It’s shameful that this happens in the round of 16 of a World Cup.”

It took a late header from Yerry Mina to pull Colombia level and send the tie into extra-time, and Monaco star Falcao was confident of his side getting through to the quarter-finals of the competition.

And, after experiencing his first World Cup, Falcao believes his team will only get better in the next few years.

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“During the 120 minutes we fought with our weapons, with our strength, we carried a plan to the end and we managed to draw,” he added.

“On penalties the victory could go either way. It leaves a sour taste, because we thought we could have qualified.

“This team is very strong. The players are growing and this Colombia side will become stronger; we have to keep working.”

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Heartbreak for Senegal and all of Africa as fair play makes for the cruelest of World Cup exits

Senegal could and possibly should have squeezed past Colombia to book at tie with England or Belgium in the last 16, but they fell to a Yerry Mina header form a corner to end Africa’s involvement in the World Cup.

After Nigeria pushed Argentina all the way in their final group game, Senegal became the latest African outfit to suffer heartbreak at the hands of South American opposition and their exit was arguably even harder to take. Aliou Cisse’s side didn’t just concede a late goal, they bowed out on yellow cards. 

Colombia’s 1-0 win saw them top the group but Japan and Senegal had the same number of points, goals scored and goals conceded (all four), while they had drawn 2-2 in their matchday two meeting.

However, Senegal became the first team in World Cup history to be eliminated on fair play, as they accrued more yellows (6-4) than their rivals for a last-16 berth. 

Even more gallingly, it would have all been so different had they taken their chances in Samara.

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Senegal dominated the first half, completely nullifying the threat posed by Colombia’s much-vaunted attack. Indeed, they didn’t even allow Radamel Falcao & Co. a single touch in their penalty area during the opening 45 minutes, while at the same time creating the better chances.

Sadio Mane ran rings around Mina only for the much-maligned Barcelona centre-back to have the last laugh. Senegal were, ultimately, victims of the narrow margins that decide games at the very highest level.

They needed composure in the final third but they didn’t offer any, while they were let down at the other end of the field by the team’s only Africa-based player. Goalkeeper Khadim N’Diaye could have done better as Mina leaped highest to score his fifth goal in 14 games for his national team.

There will be regrets all round, though; N’Diaye shouldn’t be made the scapegoat for Senegal’s exit. They must also must also back and wonder how they failed to beat Japan, despite having created more than twice as many chances as their Asian opponents.

Colombia also deserve huge credit for the way in which they responded to the loss of their talisman, James Rodriguez, who hobbled off in the 31st minute. In the second half, they gradually gained control of what felt like a home game for the South Americans, given the presence of some 30,000 Colombians in Samara.

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Falcao is an inspirational character for Colombia but Rodriguez will be sorely missed as Jose Pekerman’s side prepare to do battle with either England or Belgium in the next round. Still, the attacking midfielder’s injury was the one disappointment on an otherwise joyous day for the players and their supporters.

There will be nothing but heartbreak in Africa, though. As the legendary Didier Drogba had told the BBC beforehand, all of the continent’s football fans had rallied behind Cisse’s side: “I want them to go through. They are the only African team left. We have put our hopes in them, and I think they can do it.”

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Unfortunately, they could not, and now, for the first time since 1982, Africa will not have a representative in the knockout stage of a World Cup.

Senegal may have proved to be one of Africa’s finest sides in this World Cup, but they did not prove themselves one of the tournament’s best. At this cruel, unforgiving level, you have to be effective at both ends of the field and they came up agonisingly short in both regards.

The long wait for a World Cup winner from Africa goes on…

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