Carlos Bacca is relieved to be back in Italy ahead of the World Cup but insists joining Villarreal on loan helped him to secure a place in Colombia’s squad.
The striker endured a frustrating 2016-17 campaign at struggling Serie A giants AC Milan, scoring 13 goals in 32 league appearances and enduring a strained relationship with head coach Vincenzo Montella, who was sacked in November.
Former Sevilla star Bacca struck 15 times during his temporary return to LaLiga last season, earning him a spot in Jose Pekerman’s national team squad for the World Cup finals in Russia.
The 31-year-old is expected to return to Milan, now being coached by Gennaro Gattuso, next term and is already back on familiar territory, with Colombia preparing at the club’s Milanello training complex for a friendly against Egypt in Bergamo on Friday.
“I have my dreams, my ambitions and my goals,” he told a news conference.
“One of them was to play the World Cup, and that is why I decided to change team, to have minutes [and regain] confidence.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t in a good level in my last year in Milan, I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t enjoying [it], and I didn’t find the best conditions.
“Going to Villarreal gave me back the joy and happiness, I enjoyed [it] a lot on the field, and thank God I can be part of the national team again, and [playing at] a very good level, that is really important.
“I am really happy [to feel the] love from people here. I spent two years here… in that moment maybe you don’t take into account the love they feel for you.
“And coming back, after a year out of Milanello, and feel that love [again], feel the hugs, and the good wishes, that fills me up of joy, [with the] satisfaction of confirming that I did very well … when I was here.”
Colombia’s first Group H opponents will be Japan on June 19, and Bacca could well come up against his former Milan team-mate Keisuke Honda during the clash in Saransk.
“Japan is a very dynamic team, very disciplined, with great players and lot of talent,” he said.
“They play as a team and will be very difficult to face, with very important players playing in big leagues.
“On Honda I can tell you that played two years with him. He is 100 per cent professional.
“If I had the chance, he would be always on my team, because besides being a great professional, he is important on and off the field, a huge player.
“I will always wish him the best and I send him a big hug.”