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.