A young England side, riding on free-scoring striker Harry Kane, will be desperate to write their own history when they face Colombia in the last 16 match at Spartak Stadium in Moscow, Russia Tuesday.
England earned a late 2-1 win against Tunisia in their tournament opener before totally destroying Panama 6-1 in the following match, thanks to Kane’s five goals in the first two games. Their last outing against Belgium eventually became a battle between the benches as both the teams made a total of 17 changes. The Three Lions lost to a solo Adnan Januzaj goal but that should not reflect the true strength of this young squad.
Rather, this do-or-die battle with the Los Cafeteros will be the first real challenge for Gareth Southgate’s English boys. England have already scored eight goals in this tournament. The only time they have scored more in one edition was in 1966 when they became champion. Back then, host England found the net 11 times.
Captain Kane, who has scored with all of his five shots on target, will be the key man for England. He knows the importance of the role he is playing.
"It's just such a buzz, such an adrenaline rush, it's relief, it's everything," said Kane.
"Obviously you work so hard, we all know the pressures in a World Cup and football in general, so it's the pride of all of that hard work coming together at that moment, and you celebrate that like we did,” the Tottenham Hotspur lad added.
England boss Southgate sounded happy and privileged ahead of the clash.
"Throughout my whole life, my main ambition was to play for England. I represented England at a World Cup, then I found out I was one of only four people to manage and play for England at a World Cup, so I am incredibly proud to do that as I’m hugely patriotic," said Southgate.
On the other hand, Colombia, despite suffering a 2-1 defeat against Japan in the first game, came back strongly to outplay Poland 3-0 in the second match. And a 1-0 win over Senegal, courtesy a Yerry Mina goal, eventually took them to the last 16 as group champion. With qualification secured, veteran manager Jose Pekerman has now reached the knockout stage in all the World Cups he has managed. He took his teams to the quarter-final on both the previous occasions - in 2006 with Argentina and in 2014 with Colombia.
One of Colombia’s key players, James Rodriguez, who won the Golden Boot in Brazil 2014, was subbed off early against Senegal with an injury. But news came from the Colombian camp that he would be fit for the match. Radamel Falcao will surely possess a threat for the England defence. The English are familiar with Falcao after his stints with Manchester United and Chelsea.
Colombia will try to surpass their achievement from the 2014 finals by reaching the last eight for only the second time. Three of Colombia’s five goals in the tournament came from set-pieces – two from corners and one from a direct free-kick. This will give the Three Lions a headache while defending.
Carlos Sanchez, speaking in an exclusive interview with Fifa, said, “We have to have lot of concentration so that we can book our spot into the next round and continue in this World Cup. They (England) are a very well-worked team, they have very structured players with young players, who have ambition. Their players have offensive power and they have the top-scorer of the tournament, but we also have our strengths, and we have a team that is capable of facing any opponent."
England previously faced south American opponents in the last 16 thrice, and have never lost in stipulated time. They lost in the tie-breaker after drawing against Argentina in 1998. Most recently, a trademark David Beckham free-kick rescued them against Ecuador in the last 16 of the 2006 edition.
In contrast, Colombia, who have always failed to win against the Three Lions, lost 2-0 against them in France 1998.