World Cup Round of 16: England wanted Colombia; they have them
The final match in the Round of 16 sees Colombia, winners of Group H; play England, runners-up of Group G. The South Americans secured back-to-back wins, beating Poland 3-0 and also securing a slender 1-0 victory over Senegal. Their two victories came after suffering an opening-match shock defeat at Japan's hands, losing that one 2-1.
England secured qualification early, winning their opening two matches. Firstly, they secured a late victory over Tunisia thanks to two Harry Kane goals. Then came the 6-1 thrashing of Panama, with Kane netting a hat-trick. A much-changed XI lost a tight affair to Belgium, who rested their stars too, in their final group game. That meant the harder draw in the first knockout round came the English's way.
The Three Lions and Los Cafeteros have met five times, with the Europeans currently undefeated with three wins and two draws. Their only competitive meeting came 20 years ago at France 98, with Darren Anderton opening the scoring before a young man called David Beckham announced himself on the world stage with a stunning free kick. Their last meeting was a 2005 friendly, which England won 3-2, courtesy of a Michael Owen hat-trick, with Mario Yepes and Juan Ramirez replying for the men in yellow.
Group H Winners
For Los Cefeteros, there’s one big piece of injury news. Star man and Golden Boot winner from Brazil 2014, James Rodriguez, is a doubt. The Bayern Munich attacking midfielder came into the tournament carrying a calf injury that restricted him to just 10 minutes against Japan, as he was being eased into proceedings. The 26-year-old was substituted after 31 minutes against Senegal and hasn’t trained since.
Against Senegal, Luis Muriel came on for Rodriguez so he could be first in line to start in his absence. But coach Jose Pekeremen could opt for Carlos Bacca of Villarreal or Jose Izquierdo of Brighton instead in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, with captain and record goalscorer Radamel Falcao set to line against the nation where he spent two unsuccessful years.
In terms of suspensions left back Johan Mojica, right winger Juan Cuadrado and Rodriguez himself are all carrying yellow cards so one against England would rule them out of the quarter-finals, should they get there.
With a settled back four, featuring Tottenham’s Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina of Barcelona, Colombia has yet to concede a goal with all 11 players on the pitch, so England will have to have a plan against Kane’s club-mate and company, while also working out how to deal with Quintero and maybe Rodriguez. His absence might well be crucial.
Group G Runners-up
For the Three Lions, this represents a first knockout game at a World Cup for eight years; since that infamous last 16 game with Germany. Rather staggeringly, it's an opportunity for England to secure their first knockout stage win at a major tournament in twelve years. It is difficult to judge Gareth Southgate’s men, having played two poor sides in Tunisia and Panama, while fielding a reserve side against Belgium. But as the saying goes, you can only beat what is put in front of you and England hasn’t been able to manage even that for a long time at major finals.
Dele Alli is expected to have shaken off a thigh injury, he should be fit if called upon. John Stones suffered a minor knock to the knee, but it shouldn't keep him sidelined. That leaves England with a full squad to choose from, save for Fabian Delph, who has left Russia to be with his wife during her labour. Only defender Kyle Walker comes into the game carrying a yellow card from Southgate's preferred XI, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek also at risk.
Southgate will stick to his preferred 3-5-2 formation with Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson likely to start ahead of Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford. For the Three Lions, the key will be how quickly they can get the ball into the captain Harry Kane; currently the tournament top scorer. If they can do this, the Spurs man has the quality to hurt any defence, just ask the likes of Juventus, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
I expect this to be an open match as both sides favour a more attacking style. Colombia ripped Poland apart and were better than both Senegal and Japan. England enters with vastly reduced expectations but with the confidence that they can take the game to anyone. As an Englishman, I have to back my home nation to overcome the curse of ITV and seal a narrow win. The loss of Rodriguez to be decisive. 2-1 to England