Colombia’s national soccer team will on Tuesday lock horns with England seeking to book a place in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup in a game that could define this generation of players.
After topping Group H with a hard fought win over Senegal last Thursday, “Los Cafeteros” now have the opportunity of emulating their achievement of 2014 by reaching the last-eight of world football’s most prestigious showpiece.
“We are a better team than four years ago,” explained goalkeeper David Ospina to reporters, adding that the experience and unity in the current squad gives them a great chance of prevailing.
We are together, more experienced and a stronger squad of players than we were in Brazil. We have experience and good quality. Our players play in the best clubs, the best leagues, and are used to playing in matches of this size, so nothing will frighten us. England are a good team but we did not mind who it was we would face. We just know we will give everything for our country and take strength from the support. We always give everything for our country. It’s such an honor to play for Colombia.”
David Ospina – Colombia goalkeeper
Coach Jose Pekerman is currently fretting over the fitness of key playmaker James Rodriguez who was withdrawn in last Thursday’s 1-0 win over Senegal as “Los Cafeteros” secured qualification to the knock-out stages as group winners.
Colombia’s Football Federation confirmed on Saturday that “James Rodriguez underwent a scan today which showed that he is suffering from minor edema, but that there has been no muscle tear.”
The news means that it is likely that the 2014 Golden Boot winner will play some part against the “Three Lions,” which would be a major boost for the Colombians as they seek to defeat England for the first time in their history.
Should the Cucuta-born star not make it into the staring XI, he is likely to be replaced by Sevilla’s Luis Muriel who deputized in the win over Senegal when the Bayern Munich man departed proceedings after half an hour.
While defensive midfielder Abel Alguilar is likely to be available again after sustaining an injury to his left abductor against Poland, Pekerman is likely to opt again for the pairing of Carlos Sanchez and Mateus Uribe in front of the defense.
Colombia goes into the game at the Spartak Stadium on the back of an impressive recovery in the group stage that has made the players battle-hardened and certainly up to the pitch of the World Cup.
The dismissal of Carlos Sanchez after three minutes in the opening game was a major factor in the Colombians 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Japanese but a swashbuckling 3-0 victory over Poland and a hard-earned three points against Senegal provided them with the ideal preparation for this last-16 clash.
England by contrast struggled to beat Tunisia in the first game before putting six past minnows Panama. Coach Gareth Southgate fielded a weakened team against Belgium in the final Group G fixture, losing out 1-0 in what was a drab affair.
English fans reportedly celebrated their side’s defeat by Belgium as it supposedly guaranteed them an easier path to the final of the competition, with local media already going into a frenzy about their chances.
According to former captain and all-time leading scorer Wayne Rooney, “this could be the year” for England to win the World Cup as hype continues to build about a young team who in reality has only beaten very modest opposition.
Such arrogance on the part of the English may play right into the hands of Colombia, who with the likes of Juan Cuadrado, Juan Fernando Quintero and Radamel Falcao posses the firepower to expose their weaknesses.
Quintero in particular will be crucial especially if James is absent. The former Independiente Medellin player has been directly involved in three of Colombia’s five goals at this World Cup, scoring in the first game and delivering an assist in the second and third.
According ex-Aston Villa midfielder, Carlos Sanchez, the Colombians have the utmost respect for their opponents but are confident that they can cause them problems.
“Colombia respects this team [England] very much because it has shown that it has great power, but we also have our little things,” said Sanchez to reporters.
“They have a lot of history and top players, but I am sure that we have the weapons,” added the Espanyol player.
The Colombians will also hope to pose a threat to the English defense with set-pieces, three of their five goals at the World Cup to date already coming from this source with towering center-back Yerry Mina already racking up two headers.
Colombia and England last met competitively at the 1998 World Cup with a David Beckham-inspired Three Lions prevailing on a 2-0 scoreline against what was considered to the end of an era for a golden generation of Colombian players.
Under the guidance of Argentine maestro Pekerman, a new generation has since emerged and this game represents the chance for them to prove their credentials and reach back-to-back World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in the country’s history.
While the English may already be planning their World Cup celebrations, Pekerman and his side will be thinking otherwise and they certainly posses enough quality to book date with either Sweden or Switzerland in the last eight of Russia 2018.
The only elimination games that England have won since their 1990 run to the semi-finals have been against Ecuador in 2006 and Denmark in 2002.
In their last major tournament, England suffered an embarrassing elimination at the hands of Iceland in the last 16.
Colombia’s defeat of Uruguay in the last World Cup in Brazil four years ago secured the Andean nation’s best ever finish at the tournament as they eventually went out to the hosts in the quarter-finals.