England and Colombia Clash with Deep World Cup Run on the Horizon
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England and Colombia Clash with Deep World Cup Run on the Horizon

Gareth Southgate’s decision to lift off the accelerator for their final group game against Belgium will be put under the microscope when England face Colombia in the last 16 on Tuesday.

With the bottom half of the draw having seemingly opened up like the Red Sea, both England and Belgium made their best efforts to seem like they wanted to win, without actually wanting to win. Adnan Januzaj’s brilliant solo effort clinched the three points for Belgium, leaving them in the same side of the draw as Brazil and France – with England left to contemplate games with the likes of Sweden, Switzerland, Russia or Croatia.

But before they can think about the quarter finals and beyond, the Three Lions need to navigate a way past Jose Pekerman’s Colombia.

The market makers feel it will happen, as 188BET have England priced at 2.11, with Colombia at 4.00 and the draw 3.25. An England win on the dreaded penalties is 10.0.

Failure to beat Colombia, and all the promise of the group stage and the progressive management style of Southgate will count for nothing. It will be a World Cup campaign classed as a failure, like so many that have gone before.

But win and it’s the quarter finals at the least, with a meeting with Sweden or Switzerland. If that happens, Southgate will be riding high whatever the outcome and will have the confidence to take what is a young squad forward.

The focus, though, is on Colombia alone. The South Americans may have to take on England in Moscow without the services of their best player, with James Rodriguez set to miss out on account of a leg injury. But even without the Bayern Munich man, this will be England’s first proper test of their credentials.

Colombia are four places below England, 16 to 12, in FIFA’s rankings – and on paper they do look evenly matched.

While Colombia are rugged at the back and will defend stoutly, they are at their best when on the front foot. Juan Quintero will take over the playmaking role if James misses out, and he will do the prompting for Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado.

Many England fans will scoff at the prospect of facing Falcao, who had two terrible seasons in the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea, but at that point he was recovering from a devastating knee injury. He’s since rediscovered his best form with AS Monaco and his quicksilver play and deadly finishing mean England’s defenders will have to be on their guard.

While Colombia have attacking weapons to worry about, England would be better advised focusing on their own game – as they have looked good when playing on the front foot.

There are few hotter forwards than Harry Kane in the world game at present, and he will be confident of scoring against any side.

This could turn into an arm wrestle, but if it remains open Southgate will hope his decision to rest players for the Belgium game will pay off against a Colombia side who have had to dig deep in all three games so far.

If fresher legs pay off and England advance, only then can we even think about saying it’s coming home.

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