When we last saw the national teams of Brazil and Colombia on a soccer field, it was July Fourth, in a World Cup quarterfinal. Brazilian star Neymar was being carted off on a stretcher after taking a knee in the back from Colombian defender Juan Camilo Zuniga, sending 200 million Brazilians into despair.
Brazil won that match 2-1 in Fortaleza, but it was a heated contest, with a tournament-high 56 fouls called. It was also a costly win for the host Brazilians. Neymar sustained a spinal fracture and was forced to sit out the semifinal, in which Brazil was humiliated 7-1 by eventual champion Germany.
A sellout crowd of 70,000-plus is expected at Sun Life Stadium on Friday night for a rematch of that memorable quarterfinal. It is Brazil’s first match since the World Cup and Neymar’s first game back in a Brazilian jersey. It also marks the return of Radamel Falcao to the Colombian team after sitting out since January following knee surgery.
It has been quite the week for Falcao, the 28-year-old striker who joined Manchester United in the wee hours Tuesday on a one-year, $9.8 million loan from French club AS Monaco. He will be earning $457,000 per week for the Red Devils, and fans of the storied English club will be very curious to see how he performs in Miami.
Falcao flew from France to England late Monday, signed the deal early Tuesday and headed to Miami to join Los Cafeteros. While here, he was scheduled to visit the British Consulate and interview for the work visa he needs to play in the Premier League. He is expected to make his debut Sept. 14 against Queens Park Rangers.
His season was cut short last year with torn ligaments in his left knee. He had moved to Monaco in 2013 after scoring 70 goals in 91 matches for Atlético Madrid. He scored 11 in 20 matches for Monaco last season and had two in his first three matches this season before the transfer.
He told reporters in Miami how eager he is to play in his national team jersey after missing the World Cup.
“I trusted in God to return to football, I have worked very hard every day to achieve it and thank God my work paid off, being able to come back normally, scoring goals,” Falcao said. “I’m feeling relaxed about it.
“When I had to go for surgery, all of the country sent positive messages. I was very happy with that, and all I want is to give back some of this happiness I received both with the national team and at my club. It’s an honor to be here.”
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman is pleased to have Falcao back.
“I am very happy to have him back in action and fully recovered,” he said upon naming his squad. “We are making the right decisions to protect his performance and his future. I am happy to continue on with Colombia. I cried a lot after we were eliminated. Those were tears because I visualized us making it to the final, and that match [against Brazil] didn’t go well for us.”
Neymar is also itching to get back on the field after his World Cup hopes were quashed.
He will be wearing the captain’s armband in place of injured Thiago Silva, and the Brazil team will be under new leadership as 1994 World Cup star Dunga, who replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari, begins his second stint as coach. Dunga retained 10 of the 23 World Cup players.
The Colombian roster features 21 of its 23 World Cup players, including Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez, who recently signed with Real Madrid. Zuniga is also on the squad and was forced to address the Neymar collision when he met with reporters this week.
“What happened on the pitch was without intention,” Zuniga told globoesporte.com. “It’s important now to think about the game between Colombia and Brazil.”
Friday’s match kicks off a busy five days of international soccer in South Florida. Ecuador plays Bolivia on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. Alejandro Melean, a 2004 graduate of Miami Palmer Trinity School, is on the Bolivian roster. He plays for Oriente Petrolero in Bolivia.
Chile and Haiti meet Tuesday night at Lockhart.
Tickets for the Brazil-Colombia match are on sale through TicketMaster and the stadium box office. Tickets for the Lockhart matches can be purchased through compreboletos.com and 877-877-7677.