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.

Colombia v Senegal

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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Pekerman dedicates Colombia win to ‘deeply affected’ Sanchez after death threat report

Colombia head coach Jose Pekerman dedicated his side’s 3-0 win over Poland to Carlos Sanchez and spoke about the “hard time” the midfielder endured after being sent off in their previous World Cup game.

Sanchez was dismissed after just three minutes of Colombia’s Group H opener, which ended in a 2-1 defeat to Japan that prompted criticism of Pekerman’s team.

Colombia bounced back with an impressive victory over Poland courtesy of goals from Yerry Mina, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado, while Sanchez served his one-match ban.

Pekerman was asked about reports Sanchez had received alleged death threats that evoked harrowing memories of Andres Escobar’s murder in the aftermath of scoring an own goal at the 1994 World Cup.

Pekerman told reporters: “We received certain information but to confirm such a thing, I can’t speak to that.

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“The player was deeply affected by this matter and we all understand that football is something else. It is a game and we play with a lot of hard work and dedication but these things shouldn’t even be said lightly.

“Whether it’s confirmed or not, this is something that’s extremely painful.

“This victory is dedicated to Carlos Sanchez, because he has had a very hard time these last few days. We achieve this victory and I want to share it with him. I’m expressing it personally but it’s something that all the squad feels.”

Pekerman hailed the performance of striker Falcao, who scored his first World Cup goal and became the first player to net 30 times for Colombia.

“I think this is one of the greatest joys we received tonight,” said the 68-year-old. “He is a symbol of the national team and of Colombian football.

“We always hope that he can score, that he can be fit as he was today. We want to help him as a team so he can show all his skill and shine.

“That he scored was hugely important not only for today’s match but for future matches.”

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Looking ahead to Colombia’s final group game against Senegal, from which they will likely need a win to guarantee their passage into the knockout phase, Pekerman said he was aware the African side – who are a point ahead of his team in the table – may play for a draw.

He said: “I’m sure Senegal has its own style but we’ll stay true to Colombia’s style.

“We’ll do what we can to break those strong and fast Senegal players. It’s true they might play more defensively but with this victory we’re going to have more faith in ourselves.”

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Poland 0 Colombia 3: Falcao’s maiden World Cup goal revitalises Pekerman’s side

Radamel Falcao scored his first World Cup goal as Colombia revived their hopes of reaching the World Cup knockout phase with a 3-0 victory over Poland, who now cannot reach the last 16.

Monaco striker Falcao stroked home his 30th international goal, making him the first player from Colombia to reach such a milestone, midway through the second half of a cagey encounter in Kazan, where defeat for either side would have meant elimination from the competition.

Barcelona defender Yerry Mina scored the opener, powering a header beyond Wojciech Szczesny five minutes before half-time to enliven the contest, and it was the creativity and industry of Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez that picked apart Poland’s tightly stitched seams.

The presence of James, fully fit again after a calf injury, vastly improved Colombia’s link-up play following a below-par performance in their opening 2-1 defeat to Japan, and he provided the assist for Cuadrado to add a third goal that put the game well beyond Poland.

Victory leaves Jose Pekerman’s side on three points in Group H, one point behind co-leaders Japan and Senegal ahead of their crunch match against the latter on Thursday.

Poland will have a role to play in deciding the fate of the group when they take on Japan, but ultimately head coach Adam Nawalka can have few complaints about being dumped out of the competition after two games in which his side failed to provide talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski with adequate service.


The first ever meeting between these two sides began with a number of heavy challenges at both ends of the field that prevented the game from developing into an early rhythm.

Colombia started to dominate the midfield and launched attacks down the right flank through Cuadrado, but the Juventus winger failed to penetrate a packed Poland defence.

Nawalka’s side set their stall out to avoid falling behind as they did in the first half of their 2-1 defeat to Senegal and Colombia’s chances of breaking their resolve were hit by an injury to Abel Aguilar, who was taken from the field on a stretcher in the 32nd minute and replaced by Mateus Uribe.

But shortly after Cuadrado came alive, running at the Poland defence and starting a move that culminated with an exquisitely weighted cross by James that was met by the head of Mina, who lost his marker to head over Szczesny’s outstretched arms and into the net.

Juan Fernando Quintero fired wide from 25 yards as Colombia started the second half brightly and Cuadrado then squared to Falcao on the edge of the box, but the Monaco striker lifted his shot well over the crossbar.

The isolated Lewandowski’s first real chance of the game arrived in the 58th minute when he controlled a long pass brilliantly only to shoot straight into David Ospina’s midriff as Poland attempted their first shot on target of the game.

Having survived that scare, Colombia came to life and Quintero’s superb slide-rule pass presented Falcao with a one-on-one situation and he expertly guided the ball past Szczesny with the outside of his right foot to double his side’s lead.

With 15 minutes left on the clock, James’ pass from the left found Cuadrado in space through the middle and he took a touch before applying an assured finish into the bottom-right corner of the net.

Colombia almost added a fourth after a mix-up between Jan Bednarek and Szczesny, but Uribe’s backheel was cleared off the goal line to leave the final score 3-0.

Key Opta stats:

– Poland are the first European nation to be eliminated from the 2018 World Cup.
– Colombia have won three of their last five World Cup meetings with European sides (W3 D0 L2), having won none of their first five against UEFA nations (W0 D2 L3).
– Across the last two World Cup tournaments (2014 and 2018), no player has scored more goals (6) or provided more assists (4) than Colombia’s James Rodriguez.
– Colombia’s victory means there has still been no goalless draw after 32 matches so far at the 2018 World Cup, the longest wait from the start of a tournament without one (no 0-0s in 26 games in the entire 1954 tournament).
– Three of Yerry Mina’s four goals for Colombia have been headers.
– Juan Cuadrado has been involved in six goals in seven World Cup appearances for Colombia (two goals, four assists). He scored his second World Cup goal today, exactly four years after netting his first (24th June 2014 vs Japan).
– Radamel Falcao scored his 30th goal for Colombia and first at a World Cup. He is Colombia’s all-time highest goalscorer.

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Falcao and James join injured duo in Colombia’s World Cup squad

Colombia have named stars James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao in a World Cup squad that includes injured pair Abel Aguilar and Cristian Zapata.

Deportivo Cali midfielder Aguilar, 33, and AC Milan defender Zapata, 31, both received the nod from head coach Jose Pekerman on Monday despite facing fitness problems.

They missed the 0-0 friendly draw with Egypt on Friday, but the Colombian Football Federation confirmed the experienced duo had “intensified” their rehabilitation in an attempt to be ready for Russia.

Zapata’s availability means there is no place for Santa Fe youngster William Tesillo, while long-serving forward Teofilo Gutierrez also misses out.

Falcao’s inclusion will be particularly pleasing for Pekerman after the Monaco striker missed Brazil 2014 due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

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Instead, he heads to his first World Cup looking to help improve on a quarter-final exit last time out, and with the likes of James, Juan Cuadrado and Davinson Sanchez also involved, Colombia are considered a threat to the favourites.

Their Group H opponents are Japan, Poland and Senegal.

Colombia’s final 23-man World Cup squad in full:

Goalkeepers:  Jose Cuadrado (Once Caldas), David Ospina (Arsenal), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali);

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Defenders: Santiago Arias (PSV), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Yerry Mina (Barcelona), Johan Mojica (Girona), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan);

Midfielders: Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), Wilmar Barrios (Boca Juniors), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus), Jefferson Lerma (Levante), Juan Quintero (River Plate), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol), Mateus Uribe (Club America);

Forwards:  Miguel Borja (Palmeiras), Radamel Falcao (Monaco), Jose Izquierdo (Brighton and Hove Albion), Luis Muriel (Sevilla).

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Falcao flattered by Milan interest as summer move is mooted

Radamel Falcao says it is “an honour” to be linked with AC Milan.

The 32-year-old, who scored 24 goals in all competitions for Monaco last season, is gearing up for Colombia’s World Cup campaign and featured in their 0-0 draw with Egypt on Friday.

His preparations threaten to be overshadowed, though, by increasing speculation suggesting the Italian giants are set to make a move for him during the off-season.

While Falcao admits he has been a long-time admirer of the Rossoneri, his focus for now remains solely on the World Cup.

“I have already said that it’s an honour they are thinking of me,” he said after the draw with Egypt.

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“Milan are one of the best clubs in the world and I’ve always been following them but, for now, as I said, I have a contract with Monaco and I’m comfortable there. I feel loved there.

“We need to see their plans and their project but I’m focused on the World Cup right now. I will analyse everything once all this is finished.

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“I’m keeping myself out of it. I’ve seen what the media says about it. I have a contract and right now I’m just thinking about the World Cup.”

Colombia face Japan, Poland and Senegal in Group H of the World Cup, starting with a clash against the Samurai Blue in Saransk on June 19.

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