There appeared little panic amongst the Colombian ranks as their fans partied their way to the Kazan Arena on Sunday. Conversely, their opening World Cup loss to Japan had many outside of South America wondering if Jose Pekerman’s side might be a high-profile casualty at the first hurdle.
But on the evidence of their 3-0 Group H victory over Poland, their fans have every right to continue bouncing around with such confidence. Because, with Radamel Falcao working hard at the head of their side and the majestic James Rodriguez and Juan Quintero firing in tandem, this Colombia team could yet go a long way.
Yerry Mina’s 40th-minute goal said much about where the heartbeat of this team is. Quintero played James in with a slide-rule pass and the number 10 dinked such a delicious cross into the centre that the centre-back could hardly miss.
The goal was just a snapshot of their performance. Whereas James was restricted to half-an-hour in Saransk on Tuesday, here he was fit enough to start alongside Quintero and the two of them proved far too much for Poland to handle. James started on the left with Quintero in the Bayern Munich man’s more natural role behind Falcao, but the pair of them roamed with regularity to cause the Polish defence all sorts of headaches.
It helped that they always had an outlet, with Falcao working superbly in the channels and Juan Cuadrado hugging the right touchline to force wing-back Maciej Rybus into his own half with regularity. As a team, the Colombians’ movement was often devastating.
The way they opened up the Polish defence for the killer second goal was fantastic, Quintero accepting a low ball from the right side with the softest of touches before delivering a perfect pass for Falcao to slip beyond Wojciech Szczesny with the outside of his boot.
The best was still yet to come though, with James delivering the most wonderful of passes from the left wing to find Cuadrado in time and space. The Juventus man bore down on Szczesny and slipped home a delightful finish. It was a goal worth watching over and over and over again, and took James’ tally to six goals and four assists in just seven World Cup appearances.
Three was the least Colombia deserved, with their dominance leaving Poland looking little more than mesmerised spectators for the majority of the fixture. Adam Nawalka’s side have massively underperformed at this tournament, and some introspection will be needed now that they are heading home. But in truth they might not have been able to handle James, Quintero et al even on a good day.
Much has been made about there being a “kinder” half of the draw as we approach the knockout stage of this World Cup, and Los Cafeteros would have to sneak into top spot in their group in order to find themselves among the less likely contenders. But this side may be capable of going deep regardless.
With James dominating, they had the holders hanging on by their fingernails in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup in Brazil, and there is no reason for them not to emulate that return on this evidence. They will come up against one of Belgium and England should they reach the round of 16, but both those in-form, high-scoring outfits will be feeling less confident about their potential task after watching this match.
In a tournament which has provided nearly endless thrills and spills so far, this performance was up there with the best yet. Colombia have arrived and are ready for anything.