South America makes Europa mark again with Falcao

A South American striker left his mark on the Europa League

final for the second straight year after Colombia striker Radamel

Falcao earned FC Porto more continental silverware with a 1-0

victory over Braga.

Falcao highlighted a breakout season in front of 45,391 at

Dublin Arena on Wednesday after turning countryman Fredy Guarin’s

perfectly lofted cross beyond goalkeeper Artur before halftime to

secure the Portuguese champion’s victory with his record 17th goal

of the competition.

”I was really delighted, overjoyed, because it’s really

impressive,” Falcao said. ”I was happy for the entire team, and I

was delighted to have scored the goal.”

Uruguay striker Diego Forlan’s double in Hamburg lifted Atletico

Madrid to its first continental silverware in 48 years last year in

a 2-1 extra-time win over Fulham.

South Americans have featured in three successive finals,

including the last UEFA Cup final in 2009, when Brazilian

midfielder Jadson scored Shakhtar Donetsk’s winner in a 2-1

extra-time win against Werder Bremen.

The 25-year-old Falcao – nicknamed ”El Tigre” (The Tiger) –

took his season tally to 34 goals to confirm his importance again

for Porto, which is on the cusp of the treble following it’s

unbeaten league season.

Porto plays Guimaraes for the Portuguese Cup on Sunday after

becoming only the second club to finish the season without defeat

after Benfica’s unbeaten run in 1972-73.

As if sensing this season’s accomplishments would be impossible

without him, Porto coach Andre Villas-Boas clung to Falcao’s back

as the club accepted its medals and the trophy, which Falcao lifted

alongside captain Helton.

Maybe Villas-Boas was more concerned with hanging on to his

coveted striker, who has two seasons left to run on his contract

and whose admirers reportedly include Jose Mourinho. But Falcao

appeared committed to the club.

”I’m thinking about Porto today. I want to play in the

Portuguese league and I want to play in the Portuguese Cup final.

Of course, one day I may play in other leagues,” Falcao said. ”Of

course in my career I have aspirations, but for now I want to play

for Porto.”

Falcao moved two goals better than Juergen Klinsmann’s

15-year-old record of 15 in one season when the tournament was

known as the UEFA Cup.

Named after the Brazil and Roma great, Falcao has been worth the

?5.5 million ($8 million) paid to Argentine club River Plate in

2009 to replace Lisandro Lopez.

He is the highest scoring Colombian player in European

competitions and is Porto’s record continental marksman with 22

goals to lead Brazilian Mario Jardel’s 19.

Next year he can look to add to the tally when Porto returns to

the Champions League with hopes of emulating its 2003-04 run when

it followed up a UEFA Cup triumph with a Champions League win.

”We’ve got high expectations. There are so many things we still

want to do in this team,” Falcao said. ”We think we have good

chances of winning, but we have a long way to go, we have to be

prudent. We shouldn’t put our foot down and say we’re going to win

the next Champions League.”

With the Copa America coming up in July, Colombia fans will also

be hoping Falcao can emulate Forlan’s run of form following his

Europa League heroics. Forlan was voted best player at the World

Cup in July after leading Uruguay to a fourth-place finish.

Falcao could be the long-term solution to Colombia’s chronic

shortage of goals as it had the second worst attack in the

unsuccessful qualification tournament last time round.

Guarin and striker James Rodriguez have also been standouts

during Porto’s impressive season to further bolster Colombia’s

prospects going into the July 1-24 event in Argentina.

”He’s such a good player, he’s a natural goalscorer. He means a

lot for Porto and for Colombia,” Rodriguez said. ”This is a good

moment for Colombian football – and he’s so important to the

group.”

Colombia, a Copa America winner in 2001, failed to reach the

knockout stages at the last edition in 2007 and hasn’t been to the

World Cup since 1998.