All the potential and positivity England showed during their first two outings at the 2018 World Cup won’t mean much if Gareth Southgate’s side can’t find a way to outmanoeuvre a talented Colombia team on Tuesday evening. This represents comfortably the biggest test England have faced so far in Russia, and previous disappointments in the knockout rounds inevitably come to mind.
But can the Three Lions battle beyond the weight of history to give genuine hope of reaching the latter-most stages of the World Cup? Our experts, Joe from Leeds All Over and Football FanCast’s editor-in-chief James Jones, share their thoughts and predictions ahead of England’s crucial clash…
After making so many changes against Belgium, Southgate’s starting XI seems pretty self-explanatory this time around with most expecting the same line-up that featured in the 2-1 win over Tunisia. That selection seemed to get the right personnel in the right places for England’s unconventional 3-1-4-2 system, following Southgate’s blueprint closer than anything else we’ve seen from the Three Lions at the World Cup so far.
Are there any changes you’d make to the starting XI Southgate is expected to field?
Joe: “The only change I’d consider making would be replacing Ashley Young with Danny Rose. Although Rose didn’t look amazing against Belgium, he’s a better player than Young, who limits us massively by cutting inside every time he goes forward. The buzz around the England team is high at the moment but it’ll be nice to see our first XI put in a good performance against a strong team in Colombia.”
James: “I think we should revert back to the starting XI that Tunisia. I think Southgate made a mistake by making so many changes for the Belgium game because a lot of the players now haven’t had any minutes for 9 or 10 days.”
While the modest quality of potential opposition in England’s side of the knockout tree has inevitably amplified the level of optimism surrounding this young and inexperienced team, with many supporters already mapping out the route to the final, Colombia certainly shouldn’t be underestimated. James Rodriguez was the standout star of the last World Cup, and that quarter-final-reaching team from 2014 is now further boosted by the presence of Radamel Falcao – one of the most lethal finishers of his generation.
Who is Colombia’s biggest threat and why?
James: “Rodriguez is obviously their star but with doubts over his fitness, there remains two or three names capable of hurting England. Falcao and Juan Cuadrado will have points to prove against England after their underwhelming spells in the Premier League, while Yerry Mina is a clear threat from set-pieces and we’ll do well to keep him at bay. This is not going to be as easy as many think it will be.”
Joe: “Without a doubt Rodríguez is Colombia’s best player – when he plays well, Colombia play well. Colombia are a strong team with or without him but if he’s to miss the game, as rumoured, that would provide a big knock in confidence for the Colombian team. Presuming he does play, shutting him down should be England’s main defensive priority. Juan Quintero is also worth a mention, he’s the brains of the Colombia midfield.”
In a refreshing change from the norm, the predominant analytical focus of this World Cup has been on England’s strengths rather than their weaknesses, no doubt because the Three Lions started the competition on the front foot with two impressive wins. Nonetheless, at this stage of the competition, any weak links need to be ironed out.
What do you see as England’s ultimate weakness?
Joe: “As I mentioned previously, if Young starts for England I can see him being targeted by Cuadrado, who had an excellent game against Poland. Kyle Walker could also be an issue as centre-back isn’t his natural role and it can show at times. He’s yet to face a side at the World Cup with the attacking threat that Colombia possess, so that’ll be an area to watch for sure.”
James: “Defensively I still think we’re vulnerable, evident in the fact we switched off against Panama for their consolation. However, it’s a very inexperienced squad and that always comes with some weaknesses and vulnerabilities. If we can keep focused for the entire 90 minutes, particularly in defence, then we’ll be significantly stronger.”
Where will this game be lost and won?
Joe: “If England score first don’t be surprised to see a comfortable victory, Colombia are much better going forward than they are defensively so if their defence is left exposed it could be a tough time for them. However, the most important area for me is how England’s defence handle Colombia’s front four. There hasn’t been many 0-0’s in this tournament so far and I wouldn’t expect to see one in this game either.”
James: “I think a lot of the final result will depend on how we start the game. Against Tunisia and Panama we started very well and that set the tone, but against Belgium we weren’t quite on the ball from the first kick-off and that allowed Belgium the opportunity grow in to the game early on. If we start well and on the front foot then I see no reason why we can’t blow Colombia away before they know what’s hit them.”
And finally lads, let’s hear your score predictions…
James: “England 2-1 Colombia. An early goal will settle our nerves before another one in the second-half all but secures the win. Colombia will get a late one to make it a nervous end to the game but we’ll hang on for the win.”
Joe: “I see the game being a 3-1 victory for England. Colombia are a good side and it’ll be a tough game which will be close until the latter stages. I expect Colombia to be throwing everything at it to try make the game 2-2 late on, only for England to use their pace on the counter-attack to seal the win.”