World Cup Preview: Colombia V England

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE 30: (L-R) Jamie Vardy, Kieran Trippier, Gary Cahill and Phil Jones attend an England training session at Spartak Zelenogorsk Stadium on June 30, 2018 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

England and Colombia meet in Moscow on Tuesday evening in the final Round of 16 match. Both sides impressed during the group stage and will be difficult to separate.

Colombia V England Preview

England Selection Question Marks

England made eight changes for their final group game against Belgium. Those selected failed to impress as a tame performance yielded a 1-0 defeat. Gareth Southgate will likely revert to the eleven which dismantled Panama.

England will continue with their 5-3-2 formation, with huge emphasis on the wing backs pushing on to provide width. This is a role which Kieran Trippier has excelled in so far, consistently providing dangerous balls into the box. This could be valuable against  Colombia, with goalkeeper David Ospina looking susceptible when dealing with crosses.

The biggest selection question mark surrounds who will start in the middle alongside Jordan Henderson and Jesse Lingard. Dele Alli limped off during the opening game and has not featured since. Reuben Loftus-Cheek has stepped in well, his strong running causing problems for Panama and Belgium. Loftus-Cheek has the ability to grab hold of a game and stamp his authority on it, his physical attributes making him difficult to stop when running at a man. However, against Belgium, he was occasionally sloppy in possession and has missed training sessions this week, which could open the door for Alli to return.

Jordan Pickford, untested against Tunisia and Panama, will retain his place in goal. He had no chance with Adnan Januzaj’s strike against Belgium but will be disappointed with his response to two relatively simple long-range shots. On both occasions, he pushed the ball out into the area and was fortunate not to be punished. Colombia will be keen to test him from distance early on.

Kane Up Against a Familiar Opponent

England captain Harry Kane has had a lightning start to the World Cup, leading the golden boot race after the group stages. He will come up against Tottenham teammate Davison Sanchez, who lines up alongside Barcelona’s Yerry Mina at the heart of defence. Sanchez made 31 league appearances for Spurs this season and knows Kane’s strength’s better than almost anyone. “Being from the Premier League, I’m going to prefer England”, Sanchez said, when asked about the choice of opponent. Whilst he may be able to spill the beans about Kane’s game to his Colombia teammates, stopping the in-form striker will remain an enormous task for Sanchez.

Colombia’s Attacking Threats and Concern Around James

Colombia play a 4-2-3-1 formation and suffered a surprising defeat to Japan, but recovered to win Group H. During qualifying they were known as a defensively solid side who were reliant on stars Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez for attacking inspiration.

However, since the tournament began, Colombia have played direct football and at times looked unstoppable. Playing behind Falcao, the trio of Juan Cuadrado, Juan Quintero and James have a combination of attributes which blend together effectively. Cuadrado’s pace and direct running has been devastating, particularly against Poland. Ashley Young’s defensive abilities will be given their first true test of the tournament against the former Chelsea winger. He could see his ability to push forwards limited, such is the threat of Cuadrado on the counter-attack. Quintero oozes quality and after a tough couple of seasons, has blossomed at the perfect time. With a goal and two assists during the group stages, Quintero has been Colombia’s best player at the tournament so far. Compared during his early years to Lionel Messi, Quintero grew up in Medellin with James Rodriguez and has developed a good partnership with him.

Colombia’s key man is undoubtedly James Rodriguez. However, he missed the opening game with injury and limped off against Senegal and a question mark remains. His loss would be a devastating blow. A truly world-class player, James has generated two assists at the tournament despite missing large chunks of playing time. He will be sorely missed if unavailable.

Colombia’s Hot-Headed Duo

The biggest question mark around Colombia is their central midfield duo. Carlos Sanchez will likely line up alongside Mateus Uribe in the absence of injured Abel Aguillar. Sanchez was sent off after three minutes against Japan, while Uribe picked up three red cards and eleven yellow during the season for Club America. Both have a reputation for diving into challenges and losing their heads. With England potentially outnumbering Colombia in the middle, the pair could become frustrated and be lured into mistakes.

Conclusion

Colombia have the attacking talent to trouble England and will test Jordan Pickford. Whether or not they can create enough opportunities will be largely dependent on James Rodriguez’s fitness. If he does play, England’s back three will face an enormous test and will be much more reliant on support from their wing-backs. However, England should have the firepower and attacking quality to win, particularly with Harry Kane’s rich vein of form.

Prediction: Colombia 1-3 England

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