England have worked themselves onto the arguably easier side of the draw for the World Cup knockout stages, but they will find tough first opponents when they take on Colombia in their last-16 tie in Moscow on Tuesday (19:00 BST, live on BBC1).
Wins over Tunisia and Panama had already seen England secure their progression from Group G prior to their final match against Belgium on Thursday. Gareth Southgate sent out a second-string side who fell to a 1-0 defeat that saw England go through in second place.
It was a match played at a relaxed pace, with neither team seeming particularly keen to fully impose themselves on the game. The difference between them was a lovely second-half strike from former Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj. Later, Marcus Rashford was released through on goal, only to send his finish wide via a minor touch from the goalkeeper.
Southgate’s slightly awkward post-match interview on ITV suggested that while he perhaps hadn’t specifically told his players to go out and lose, he was more than happy with the eventual outcome. Colombia are tougher opponents than Japan would have been in the last 16. As a potential route to a semi-final, Colombia followed by Sweden or Switzerland looks more accessible than Japan followed by Brazil or Mexico, most likely Brazil.
Such calculations must, however, be placed in this context: England haven’t won a knockout match at a major tournament since 2006. They failed to qualify for Euro 2008, didn’t make it out of their group at the last World Cup, and were defeated in the first knockout round at the 2010 World Cup and in each of the last two European Championships. Their path to the semi-finals or final is irrelevant if they cannot first break that streak by beating Colombia.
England’s key players will be well-rested for the match. Southgate elected to make eight changes against Belgium in an attempt to keep his first-choice players fresh and make those who hadn’t previously been involved feel a genuine part of the group. That match off could prove particularly important for group-stage top scorer Harry Kane, who carried an injury through the latter part of the Premier League season at Tottenham Hotspur.
Colombia did not have the luxury of rotating players in their decisive group-stage match against Senegal on Thursday. Defeat to Japan and victory over Poland left them on three points going into the final round of matches and in need of another three to be certain of their place in the knockout stages.
It wasn’t a result they achieved easily. Senegal were well-organised, pressed effectively and won the majority of the individual battles all across the pitch, particularly so during the first half. But Colombia did improve a tad after the interval, and on 74 minutes, Yerry Mina rose high to head in a right-wing corner to secure victory and qualification.
After three matches, it is difficult to get a true handle on Colombia’s level. They were superb against Poland, playing swift and incisive attacking football, but certainly had their struggles with Senegal. They were handicapped by the early expulsion of Carlos Sanchez against Japan.
Much will depend on the fitness of James Rodriguez, Colombia’s most influential attacking player. The Bayern Munich midfielder was forced to come off during the first half of the Senegal match, and while his injury doesn’t appear to be anything more than muscle fatigue, a similar prognosis resulted in him starting on the bench against Japan.
England would be unwise to underestimate Colombia, but they do have some things in their favour. Even if he plays, Rodriguez is unlikely to be 100% fit, while England have also accumulated less fatigue than their opponents. Colombia played with 10 men for almost the entire 90 minutes against Japan and then expelled a lot of energy to get the result they needed against Senegal.
The two teams are fairly evenly matched in normal circumstances, but those little advantages should be enough to see England win their first major tournament knockout match in 12 years and make it through to the last eight.
Our Preview’s England vs. Colombia Betting Tips Verdict
For those looking to have a bet with one of the better UK online bookmakers, it is objectivity rather than patriotism that has led to this preview’s one recommended betting tip:
- Bet on England to win @ 11/10 with Betfred.
- Check England v Colombia match betting & all World Cup outright odds.