World Cup Preview: Colombia v England

Who? Colombia - England
Where? Otkritie Arena, Moscow
When? July 3, 20:00 (CET local time)

Colombia (Idan Seggev)

June 26th 1998. Colombia and England meet at the Stade Felix-Bollaert in Lens for the last match in the group stage. Colombia needed a win in order to qualify but they lost 0-2. A goal by Darren Anderton and a magnificent free kick by the young star, David Beckham, finished the Colombian dream and the era of Carlos Valderrama, who played his last match with the yellow jersey.

July 3rd, 2018. 20 years later and both national teams will meet again, this time in the round of 16 of 2018 World Cup. Unlike the past, this time there is a feeling that Colombia can do it. The potential of this squad is big and with all the respect, the English team haven't show something extraordinary that makes Colombia's mission impossible. Add the fact that since his appointment as Colombia's coach, Pekerman never lost a game against European teams: six wins and two draws against teams such as Spain, Belgium, Holland and France.

The main question is whether James will be fit or not. Against Senegal he had to be replaced after only 31 minutes. After an examination by the team's doctor, the Colombian federation announced that he would be fit for the match. Meanwhile, Pekerman tried at the practice a lineup without James but with three defensive midfielders: Carlos Sanchez, Uribe and Barrios. Although most chances that James will play, even without him it's hard to believe that Pekerman will use such a defensive approach and either send Uribe to the left wing or will put Muriel there instead of one of the three. The rest should be the same as the team who played against Senegal.

Once again the Colombian fans will dominate the stands in the stadium, with Carlos Valderrama wearing the same jersey from that match in 1998, and with the elimination of teams like Germany, Argentina and Spain, the fans believe that it's their time to make history.

England (Yossi Medina)

The talks about football's coming home are rising and rising as long as the World Cup continues. The elimination of Spain made England to be the only former world champions in their side of the bracket and one out of two former finalists in this side, alongside with Sweden.

Since the end of the group stage, many people believe that England is currently in a good position to run all the way to the title. They are ranked on the top 5 and sometimes even in the top 3 according to the betting companies in their odds to win the title. The sounds of 1966 are here, but England knows that being favorite is not always enough, just like two years ago in the Euro against Iceland.

England have good memories from playing against Colombia, as they defeated them in their only World Cup meeting in 1998 group stage. Yet, the English team doesn't like to play against South American teams in World Cup knock out. They won only three times in the past, against Argentina in 1966 and against Paraguay in 1986. Since then, they lost twice to Argentina in 1986 and 1998 and defeated also by Brazil in 2002, but defeated Ecuador in 2006.

With the support in Russia and in the home, England feels that they can do it now. If they could leave the pressure away, England can make another great performance in this tournament that will maybe worth a place at the next stage. If not, it will be another disappointment for coming home too early.

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World Cup Preview: Senegal v Colombia

Who? Senegal - Colombia
Where? Samara Arena, Samara
When? June 28, 16:00 (CET local time)

Senegal (Omri Tancman)

After a long draught of appearances in World Cups, Senegal is arriving to its last game of the group stage knowing that all they need to do is not to lose to Colombia. To do so, Senegal must keep a clean sheet. The task will not be easy. Senegal hasn’t managed to maintain a clean sheet against Poland or Japan and the mission will not be easier against Colombia. The responsibility for this important mission lies very much on the bold shoulders of Kalidou Koulibaly.

Koulibaly, one of the best central defenders in the world, leads the defence of Napoli since 2014 and has been constantly linked to the biggest clubs in the world. Diego Maradona, Napoli’s legend, stated this year that if Koulibaly was white he would be playing for Real Madrid or Barcelona. Koulibaly himself tries not to give too much importance to racial issues. When referring to Maradona’s praises he himself said that "some black players are already at the best clubs in the world and I hope to be part of that one day, too."

Koulibaly’s somewhat independent attitude resonates also to his perspective towards Senegal’s decisive match against Colombia. According to Koulibaly the most important thing is that they are totally independent. According to the strong commanding Centre Back “when Senegal depends only on itself it is very good.” In a way, this phrase represents a wider state of mind of current Senegalese football. Koulibaly’s responsibility is to rise to the occasion and to make sure the game against Colombia can be a demonstration of independence.     

Colombia (Idan Seggev)

With the back against the wall, Colombia managed to achieve a wonderful 3-0 victory over Poland which keeps their chance to qualify alive. It was a completely different team who controlled the match since the kick off and took advantage their supremacy on the field in order to score three beautiful goals in front of 42,800 crazy fans. The most exciting moment, of course, was to see El Tigre Falcao fulfill his dream completely by scoring a goal in the World Cup.

Despite all the joy, Colombia still achieved nothing until now.  Their last match of the group stage will be against Senegal, which proved already that they can be very dangerous, even though their made a draw against Japan.  The good news is that Colombia depends on itself and with a win they will qualify for sure to the next round. There is a possibility that even a draw can be enough but only if Poland, which is already been eliminated, will beat Japan.

Defensive midfielder, Carlos Sanchez, will return to the starting lineup instead of Barrios while Mateus Uribe, who came in as a sub against Poland and played well, will start next to him. Pekerman won't seem to make changes besides this one, and most probably that we'll see the same lineup. Even though it'll be a clash between two physical teams, Juan Fernando Quintero will continue to receive credit from Pekerman due to his great performances so far. The Colombian fans are on their way to Samara to support their national team and make them feel like they play in Barranquilla in their most important match since the quarter final against Brazil four years ago. With the current atmosphere and form, I won't gamble against them.

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World Cup Preview: Poland v Colombia

Who? Poland - Colombia
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? June 24, 20:00 (CET local time)

Poland (Eden Roitfarb)

The final second round match-up for the group stages has all the characteristics to become a classic. Poland faces Colombia, and there is no result that would satisfy both. After both lost their opener, the pressure is high and only a win would be acceptable – its do or die. When you combine this fact with all the attacking talent that will be present in the Kazan Arena, and perhaps also the goalkeeping naivety, we can expect some goals.

After getting the edge over Łukasz Fabiański in goal vs Senegal, Wojciech Szczęsny produced a terrible blunder that looked more like his old Arsenal self, rather than his current status as the Juventus No. 1. While the first goal was cruel and unlucky for Poland, the second one had Polish fans embarrassed and disappointed. They have expected more from the team.

One of these fans is Wojciech’s father and a former national goalie himself, Maciej, who blasted the player's performance - including his own son and leader Robert Lewandowski. According to dad, the younger Szczęsny was moving “as if to a liquor store”, and that Lewa “was probably not even on the field in the first half”.

Wojciech hasn’t responded to these comments, and the question is whether he will have the chance to do so on the pitch or whether coach Adam Nawałka will reinstate Fabiański to the lineup. Fabiański has signed this week for West Ham United from Swansea City and was one of the few bright spots in the Swans’ relegation campaign after producing a great individual season.

Another visible problem for the Polish was the absence of defender Kamil Glik. Although dressed and on the bench vs Senegal, it is likely he has not yet received a green light from team doctors to play, but that may change come Sunday due to the match importance.

Colombia (Idan Seggev)

No one, not even the most pessimist fans, could imagine this debut of Colombia in the World Cup. Except for the defeat, it was the horrible match that the team played which should concern the players, the staff and the fans. From a team with the potential to reach the quarter-final, Colombia lost to Japan and will play a crucial match against Poland in order to avoid elimination. More bad news? For Poland, it will be crucial as well, since they lost to Senegal. Prepare yourself for a World War III at the beautiful Kazan Arena stadium.

One change will be for sure in Colombia's lineup for Sunday match – Carlos Sanchez won't be in it. The midfielder who was sent off after only three minutes will be replaced most probably by Wilmar Barrios, although it still wasn't confirmed by Pekerman. There will be several questions due to the poor performance versus the Japanese:  Will Pekerman use again his center-back duo after their horrible form, especially Davinson Sanchez? Just a reminder, Colombia still has on the bench players like Yerry Mina and experienced Cristian Zapata. Another question is whether Muriel will start over Izquierdo who disappointed a lot? People will ask even if Mojica will receive more credit in such crucial match or will it be the 34-year-old veteran Farid Diaz?

The most important question will be if James Rodriguez 100% fit and start the match? When he entered in the second half against Japan, he looked more like 50% fit and was very slow. If he won't be completely able to play, It will be Juan Quintero again.

The answers to these questions will be given only few hours before the match just like Pekerman does always. This way or another, there's no second chance for Los Cafeteros who must win in order to keep their dream alive.

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World Cup Preview: Colombia v Japan

Who? Colombia - Japan
Where? Mordovia Arena, Saransk
When? June 19, 14:00 (CET local time)

Colombia (Idan Seggev)

Four years ago Colombia finished the group stage with a wonderful 4:1 victory over Japan and on Tuesday they will face the Japanese again, this time in the opening match of group H. Colombia landed in Kazan where they will stay during the tournament and was surrounded by many fans who waited for the players at the airport. They even came in the day after for the practice. The atmosphere is amazing and reminds a lot of the support Colombia had in Brazil which was very important to their success.

In the last few days there were some concerns regarding the fitness of both James Rodriguez and Wilmar Barrios. While all the team practiced together, they stayed at the gym with a doubt of not being completely fit for the first game. However, in the last couple of hours, the Colombian staff confirmed that both players overcame their minor injuries and will be fit to play. Barrios won’t start anyway, but James is probably the most important player of Colombia, so you can understand the sound of relief from the fans.  

According to the last practice, Pekerman will use his regular 4-2-3-1 formation with goalkeeper David Ospina, Mina and Davinson Sanchez as the center-back duo while Arias will be the right-back. The left-back will be chosen between Mojica and Diaz. Carlos Sanchez and Mateus Uribe should start in the middle of the field while Cuadrado, James and Muriel will be the attacking midfielders. Falcao in his World Cup debut will be the only striker up front.

In every World Cup tournament which Colombia won their opening match, they qualified to the next round. A victory over Japan will increase the chance to keep the statistics straight.

Japan (Yossi Medina)

Before the first game of Japan in this World Cup, it is clear now that the team is in trouble. The decision to sack Vahid Halilhodžić seems as a mistake, while Akira Nishino failed to impress his players. In the warm-up games, Japan lost twice to Ghana and Swtizerland, but at least ended them with a 4:2 win against Paraguay.

The Japanese squad includes players who play in Japan or Europe, but there is only one player that plays in a different place and will be the one that may help Nishino. Veteran Keisuke Honda will maybe play his last World Cup and get a chance while he plays for Pachuca from Mexico. While some may be deterred from his decision to play there, Honda gets another opportunity to be part of a Japanese success.

Eight years ago, Honda made a remarkable tournament, as he scored against Cameroon and Denmark in the group stage. These goals were important in securing the knockout stage spot back then. In a complete difference, in Brazil he scored only once against Ivory Coast. That goal was not enough, as Japan eventually lost this game and made a horrible performance that ended in the last place of the group.

These three goals put Keisuke Honda as Japan's World Cup topscorer. Alongside with another teammate, Shinji Okazaki, he will try to be the first Japanese to score in three different World Cups. Now it's the time to see whether he can give Japan another great tournament or it will be an early elimination for the Blue Samurais.

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World Cup Warm-up: Egypt v Colombia

Who? Egypt - Colombia
Where? Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia, Bergamo
When? June 1, 21:15 (CET local time)

Egypt (Uri Levy)

Less than a year back, very few has believed that Egypt will qualify to the 2018 World Cup. When the Pharaohs promised their ticket to Russia against Congo Brazzaville, even fewer had believed that they’ll arrive to the World Cup with one of the top three footballers worldwide - Mohamed Salah. Everything seemed ready for Egypt’s comeback to the world stage, but Sergio Ramos had different plans.

On Saturday night, after a rough tackle from the Spanish defender in the European Champions League final, Salah has suffered a dislocated shoulder. For now he is likely to be sidelined between three or four weeks, until the group stage matches against Russia or Saudi Arabia. The reactions in Egypt and the Arab World to the injury included tears, sadness and a grieved atmosphere. This fact is changing the whole perception of the World Cup in Egypt.

Since that famous match against Congo, Egypt haven’t won a single match in 4 chances. In March, they dominated Portugal 1-0 and looked good, but after Salah was subbed, conceded two goals and lost. On Friday night, without Salah who was with Liverpool, Egypt trailed behind Kuwait in a friendly, only to finish in a 1-1 draw.

It’s no secret that despite having names like Essam Al-Hadary, Mahmoud Trezegut, Ramadan Sobhi, Shikabala & Abdallah Said, without Salah, Héector Cúper and Egypt tournament will be much harder.

Meanwhile, against Colombia, the Pharaohs will try to test their defence against a high quality South American side, in order to prepare well for June 15th; Their match against Uruguay on Salah’s 26th birthday. After this season, and the way it ended, his teammates definitely owe him a small present.

Colombia (Idan Segev)

Colombia will face Egypt in what should be their last preparation match before the world cup, although the president of the Colombian association is still trying to find another opponent which may be Greece. To the national team camp in Italy joined the new staff member, former Argentine international and Inter Milan player, Esteban Cambiasso, who will assist coach Pekerman in Russia.

The biggest surprise regarding the Colombian squad was the removal of talented Boca Juniors midfielder, Edwin Cardona. He was a major factor during the qualifiers but his well-known discipline problems left him once again without a World Cup appearance. Cardona still have some hope, as Abel Aguilar injured and he is considered as reserve player.

The good news for the Colombians is the fact that striker Radamel Falcao will make his world cup debut. After he had to miss the tournament 4 years ago due to a serious injury, he is ready to take his last chance with both hands. ‘El Tigre’ scored 54 goals in 79 matches for Monaco in the last two years, and proved that he can still contribute in the highest levels.

The main figure of the national team will be, of course, James Rodriguez. The 2014 world cup Golden Boot winner managed to overcome his difficult time in Real Madrid and had a great season with Bayern Munich. Along with Juventus winger, Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, Colombia’s trio is ready to attack.

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