19:00 BST, Sunday 24th June, Kazan Arena (Kazan), ITV
Pre-World Cup, this was a meeting between two sides expected to finish atop Group H. But after both Colombia and Poland suffered stunning 2-1 losses to Japan and Senegal, respectively, on Tuesday, one of these squads likely won’t make it out the group.
No longer is this match about positioning to top the foursome, but rather mere survival. There is little room for error as the complection of Group H – led by Japan and Senegal – is nothing like what was expected before play began Tuesday.
What’s certain is that Poland and Colombia must show why they were considered the two most likely to survive Group H. For Poland, it’s about playing a cleaner match and showing more intensity and urgency.
Colombia, meanwhile, must again look beyond the potentially limited fitness level of star James Rodriguez whilst taking pride in knowing they remained competitive despite playing almost the entire match against Japan with ten men.
The stakes, for Poland and Colombia, are now even higher than originally expected.
Last Time Out
Poland 1-2 Senegal
From the beginning, Poland looked like a team out of sorts. Content on keeping possession while star Robert Lewandowski was barely involved in the first half.
Senegal, who worked the left side of the field well early on, were rewarded in the 37th minute when Idrissa Gueye’s low drive was deflected in off Polish defender Thiago Cionek.
Though Lewandowski was more active in the second half, Poland’s luck got worse.
Specifically on 60 minutes, when the Poles committed a chain reaction of mental lapses, highlighted by keeper Wojciech Szczęsny straying too far out to meet a changing M’Baye Niang for a long ball backed from Grzegorz Krychowiak. Niang got to the ball first and easily made the score 2-0 Senegal.
Krychowiak pulled one back in the 86th minute with a nifty header, but it proved too late for Poland as Senegal became the first African team to win a game at this World Cup.
Colombia 1-2 Japan
The fate of Colombia’s opener was determined in the first three minutes.
Los Cafeteros’ Carlos Sanchez was shown the first red card of the tournament in the third minute – second fastest in World Cup history – for a handball in the box. Shortly after, Shinji Kagawa converted the penalty.
The short-handed Colombians, however, persevered and equalised in the 39th minute as captain Radamel Falcao earned a free kick that Juan Quintero – starting for Rodriguez – cleverly placed under the wall.
Japan, though, controlled the second half and regained the lead on Yuya Osako’s header off a set-piece in the 73rd to secure their first World Cup win over a South American opponent.
Rodriguez and his sore calf replaced Quintero in the 59th minute, but was not much of a factor. His fitness level will again be the focal point leading up to this match.
Colombia have won three straight meetings with Poland, though the most recent came back in a 2006 friendly.
Poland manager Adam Nawalka felt his system was fine, just not properly executed. So, it’s possible he will tweak things, though not to the extreme.
Nawalka was reportedly pleased with the play of forward Dawid Kownacki, who came on for Arkadiusz Milik in the 73rd. Kownacki – who had nine touches, recorded a shot on target and was accurate in 80% of his passes – could be in line to start.
Whether injured defender Kamil Glik is ready remains uncertain. If yes, then he slots in for Cionek.
Another potential change comes in goal where new West Ham man Lukasz Fabianski could be a thought over Szczesny, whose gaffe on Senegal’s second, and somewhat controversial, goal was severe.
But enough for him to fall out of favour with Nawalka?
Rodriguez’s calf remains the pre-match storyline, but when his night begins remains to be seen. He did not show much on the pitch against Japan, which raises the question of just how effective he can be in this tournament?
If Rodriguez does not start, Quintero is likely the option again.
Luis Muriel is another possibility if Pekerman decides to change things up front, or at least provide support for Falcao.
Reports have suggested that Tottenham-linked Wilmar Barrios could slot in for the banned Sanchez, though veteran Abel Aguilar, seems like a strong option as well.
Cristian Zapata and Yerry Mina may be installed on a backline that was victimised in the events leading up to the infamous handball.
Key Battle: Radamel Falcao (Colombia) vs Michal Pazdan (Poland)
Falcao probably didn’t think much of the pressure to produce would fall on him right away in his World Cup debut, but Sanchez’s red card threw everything out of whack. The Colombian striker became the man in the spotlight with Rodriguez on the bench to start.
Falcao was responsible for the free kick that led to Quintero’s goal and both of his two shots were on target. However, most of his touches weren’t great, and he was hardly a factor down the stretch whilst running out of gas.
Perhaps with a complete XI, Falcao will deliver a more productive effort with some help. That’s possible considering Poland’s backline continue to have issues, especially without Glik.
And as long as Glik remains off the pitch, the onus to anchor Poland’s central defence shifts to the 30-year-old Pazdan. Indirectly at fault for Senegal’s first goal, Pazdan was still serviceable Tuesday whilst mostly containing their forwards from finding space.
Paired with Cionek, Pazdan still seems to be uncomfortable with anybody other than Glik. But if Glik is not ready, Pazdan and either Cionek or perhaps Jan Bednarek – part of the calamity on Senegal’s second goal – must be up to the test against a Colombian team that offers a more potent attack than Senegal did.
Can Lewandowski walk the walk?
The question about Poland entering the World Cup was whether they are pretenders or contenders?
Are they the side that stormed through qualifying with 28 goals and Lewandowski leading the way? Or still a team indicative of the past – two appearances in the previous seven World Cups?
If they believe they are the former, then their captain must rally them by leading by example and not push blame for Tuesday’s disaster away from him, as he tried to post-match.
Lewandowski must play better, it’s that simple. Sure, Poland’s backline struggled and their midfield was often a mess of miscommunication and uncertainty against Senegal, but it’s still up to Lewandowski – two shots with one on target and 34 touches – to be the catalyst on the pitch.
He’s totaled just one goal over six matches at Euro 2016 and this World Cup combined.
Colombia’s support system
While pundits and Polish fans wonder who would either compliment or step up for Lewandowski if he struggled, Colombia, at least through one match, appears more inclined to make up for the loss or mediocre play of their star.
If Rodriguez is again limited by that calf, they should be OK.
Quintero at least proved capable of generating production while Jose Izquierdo had his moments on the left side. Juan Cuadrado was a positive over a short sample size before he was replaced after 31 minutes when Pekerman brought in Barrios, who helped change the tempo in the first half.
Include Falcao, who needed to be better against Japan, and Colombia showed more passion with 10 men than Poland did with 11.
Prediction: Poland 1-2 Colombia
Both Nawalka and Pekerman remain confident in their respective sides, to no surprise, but Pekerman admired his team’s stamina and mettle against Japan.
Nawalka, meanwhile, was embarrassed. He has no choice now but to challenge them to execute better in what’s become the most important game of his tenure at Polish manager.
Though even if Poland perform better, Colombia – regardless how much Rodriguez plays – appear to be the more spirited of the two sides and look as if they are more ready to move on from their opening loss.
Poland might not be as confident to do the same.
Listen to the RealSport football writers preview Poland, Colombia and the rest of this weekend’s World Cup action in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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