By Etienne Ballerini
MONACO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri called on referees to protect players more after Colombia striker Radamel Falcao sustained a serious knee injury in a French Cup game which has put his World Cup participation in doubt.
Falcao is to have surgery after sustaining a cruciate knee ligament injury following a heavy challenge by amateur player Soner Ortek in Wednesday's last-32 3-0 win against Chasselay Monts d'Or Azergues.
"It is a very heavy blow for him and for the club because he is a leader and a great player," Ranieri told a news conference ahead of Sunday's Ligue 1 home game against Olympique Marseille.
"I love football and I like tough play but you go for the ball, not the players. And the referee is here to protect the players.
"I hope we can get him back before the end of the season and that he will be able to play the World Cup."
Ranieri added, without elaborating, that Falcao would undergo treatment in Portugal.
The Italian brushed off a question about why he had risked the striker against inferior opponents.
"There would be no question if he had not been injured," he said.
"The answer is simple: we discussed it before and he wanted to play to gain some fitness after missing a few games through injury in November."
Monaco now face a tough task to catch Ligue 1 leaders Paris St Germain, who they trail by five points, without their top striker.
"We will have to make do without him but I trust the squad to make the necessary efforts," said Ranieri.
"But without him, it is like the start of a new season." (Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Justin Palmer)