The odds always suggested that England would take on Colombia in the last 16 of the World Cup. The Colombians were favourites to top Group H and England were second-favourites behind Belgium in Group G although somehow we’ve been led to believe that this is some random throwing together of the two sides.
So as England find themselves in the so-called easier half of the draw, which camp are you in – #TeamItsComingHome or #TeamSameOldStory?
England needed a last-minute winner to beat a very modest Tunisian outfit, who were later hammered 5-2 by Belgium. They then beat Panama, the worst team in the tournament. Wow, big deal.
And as soon as they met a half-decent team in Belgium, England lost. And that was a Belgium without Lukaku, Hazard and DeBruyne, who would all walk into Gareth Southgate’s team. We’ve been spun all this positivity and yet nothing has changed. England have beaten a couple of minnows but then been exposed as ordinary. Same old story. Why did we ever believe?
England played some excellent football against Tunisia, conceding a dodgy penalty but showing the heart to find a late winner. While Belgium huffed and puffed for 45 minutes against Panama (0-0 at the break), England smashed the group whippings boys with five first-half goals. What about that strike from Jesse Lingard!
The final game against Belgium was all a bit meaningless. England rested Harry Kane, the World Cup’s top scorer with five goals in two games, and by not choosing to bring the Spurs striker on, Southgate was revealing his hand. The England boss was clearly happy to finish second and get the easier quarter-final draw – should they get there.
Perhaps in the bars and coffee shops of Colombia they’re having a similar debate about the strength of their own team. So far the South Americans have been a difficult team to assess. Going down to 10 men and conceding a penalty inside five minutes against Japan was one of those things and losing 2-1 was no disgrace.
And then we saw their true potential in game two – James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado turning on the style to put Poland to the sword in a 3-0 win. That was the real Colombia, the side which had warmed up for the World Cup by coming from 2-0 down in Paris to beat France 3-2. “We want to avoid this lot,” said England fans after seeing that Colombian cruise against Poland but then perception quickly changed as they looked bang ordinary in the final group game against Senegal.
Yes, they somehow scraped through with a 1-0 win but Colombia didn’t register a touch in the Senegal penalty area in the first half. The winning goal came from their only shot on target in the second 45 and they only had four attempts at goal in the entire match.
One interesting stat that unites England and Colombia so far is the way they’ve made the most of deal-ball situations. Six of England’s eight goals have come from set-pieces while three of Colombia’s five strikes arrived that way too.
This part of the draw is wide open. Both England and Colombia would fancy beating either Switzerland or Sweden in the last eight and who knows what happens from there. The injury to James is a huge blow to the South Americans if he doesn’t make it while it’s easy to argue that England have a fitness edge in general after resting most of their first XI in that non-entity of a game against Belgium.
But much as we purr over the attacking talents of Kane, Falcao, Alli, Sterling, Quintero, Lingard and Cuadrado, from what we’ve seen from England and Colombia so far, Tuesday night’s showdown in Moscow could well be settled by one of the big lads from the back nodding one in from a corner.
On such margins are tight World Cup matches decided.