Liverpool's Sadio Mane and Bayern Munich's James Rodriguez feature in our Senegal v Colombia key players

Matt Jones 27/06/2018
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It’s all to play for in Group H at the World Cup, with Senegal, Colombia and Japan all in with a shout of making the round of 16.

Los Cafeteros tangle with the Lions of Teranga in Samara, where the third-placed South Americans know only victory will guarantee them a place in the latter stages.

A draw will be enough for the African side, but playing for one will be dangerous against an attack that tore Poland to pieces last time out.

Here, we look at three key players for each side:

KALIDOU KOULIBALY V YERRY MINA

27 06 key battles Senegal v Colombia-A

Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the more elite names in this talented Senegal squad, but the Napoli juggernaut has allowed himself to be a bit of a passenger at this World Cup so far.

Relatively unheralded centre-back partner Salif Sane has really emerged in Russia, having caught the attention of German giants Schalke before the tournament, signing him from fellow Bundesliga side Hannover.

Sane won 11 aerial duels in the 2-2 draw with Japan compared to Koulibaly’s three while the Schalke man made a combined 10 clearances (6), interceptions (3) and blocked shots (1) against Poland, again outshining his illustrious colleague.

For such a solid pairing, however, Senegal looked shaky as they twice allowed Japan to equalise in Yekaterinburg. Such similar shortcomings will surely be capitalised upon by Colombia.

The South Americans have vast experience in their squad, but Jose Pekerman has opted for a dynamic young approach in defence where youngsters Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez form the backbone in the centre.

The Barcelona and Tottenham defenders have a combined age of just 45 but showed resilience beyond their years as Poland were pulverised 3-0 – Mina nodding in the all-important first goal and posting a team-leading three tackles.

He and Sanchez are proving that Pekerman’s gamble – with experienced AC Milan man Cristian Zapata and Oscar Murillo (both 30 or over) on the bench – has not been a foolish one.

SADIO MANE V JAMES RODRIGUEZ

27 06 key battles Senegal v Colombia-B

Neither Colombia nor James Rodriguez quite hit the ground running in Russia compared to four years ago – Rodriguez grabbed a goal as Los Cafeteros thrashed Greece 3-0 in their opener on the way to three wins and topping Group C in Brazil.

But after starting on the bench as 10-man Colombia lost 2-1 to Japan, the Bayern Munich schemer terrorised Poland from the start, registering two assists and three key passes in a performance worthy of the baby faced assassin who took Brazil by storm in 2014.

Rodriguez’s presence will once again give Colombia hope as they search for a vital win, especially with his record of being involved in 10 goals in his seven World Cup appearances.

It’s about time for Sadio Mane to take a game by the scruff of the neck at this World Cup. He’s played well without really catching fire like we know he’s capable of, with M’Baye Niang, Moussa Wague and Idrissa Gueye hogging the limelight thus far.

Sure, he got on the scoresheet against Japan, but didn’t know too much about it.

His team are unbeaten so far and deserve to go through to the knockout stages, but face a tricky test against Colombia. The Lions of Teranga need their star man to finally roar into life.

M’BAYE NIANG V RADAMEL FALCAO

27 06 key battles Senegal v Colombia-c

Pekerman might have hoped to rest veteran forward Radamel Falcao in the final group game, but no such luxury has been afforded the Colombia coach as Los Cafeteros know only victory will guarantee a last 16 spot.

The Monaco man may be ageing but he was a menace in Colombia’s 3-0 pasting of Poland, winning six aerial duels and embarking on five dribbles, which led to him being fouled twice. He also scored a stylish second which helped Pekerman’s charges take control of proceedings and dump the European side out of the tournament.

At the tip of the spear for the men in green is the raw but ravishing M’Baye Niang, who netted a maiden goal for his country in the opening 2-1 win against the Poles.

He may not have added to his tally in the thrilling 2-2 draw with Japan but was equally instrumental, winning three battles in the air and playing three key passes – one of which was an assist to tee up teenage right-back Moussa Wague for the second goal.

His 84.2 pass success rate was also the third highest among Senegal’s starters. The 23-year-old cub has quickly become a totem for the Lions of Teranga.

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Lionel Messi wore lucky amulet on left foot during Nigeria clash given to him by reporter

David Cooper 27/06/2018
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Lucky charm: Lionel Messi wore Lionel Amulet on his left ankle.

When you’re as good as Lionel Messi, you don’t often need luck.

But, with Argentina’s World Cup hopes hanging by a thread after a lacklustre start to the tournament and Messi’s lifetime dream seemingly in tatters, even the greatest need some assistance.

Step forward, Argentine reporter Rama Pantorotto.

Following La Albiceleste’s opening 1-1 draw with Iceland, the journalist gave Messi, in the interview area, a lucky amulet – a small object worn by a person which is said to gift them magical powers, protect them and ward away bad luck.

Without Pantorotto knowing, Messi attached the gift, belonging to the journalist’s wife, around his left ankle during the crushing defeat to Croatia and kept it on for Tuesday night’s last-gasp victory over Nigeria.

It was only after Messi’s goalscoring display, which helped Argentina through to the World Cup second round, that the Barcelona icon revealed he was still wearing the amulet and had not let it out of his sight since the tournament opener.

Stopping in the mixed zone after the match in Saint Petersburg this week, Pantorotto spoke with Messi, in which the 31-year-old showed the reporter he had been wearing it – much to his astonishment.

Watch their exchange below:

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Coffee Growers and Lions of Teranga possess rich attacking blend and other Senegal v Colombia talking points

Matt Jones 27/06/2018
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Group H reaches a crescendo on Thursday with Senegal taking on Colombia in Samara, both nations chasing the victory required to qualify for the World Cup‘s knockout stages.

Japan and Senegal are joint top heading into the decider, so Los Cafeteros (the Coffee Growers) know only a win will guarantee them progression for the second successive tournament to the business end.

The Lions of Teranga, meanwhile, will hope to roar just like they did on their World Cup debut 16 years ago.

Here, we take a look at three talking points ahead of the crunch clash.

JUAN’S THE MAN FOR COLOMBIA

Cuadrado

James Rodriguez rightly grabs the headlines for Colombia, but Juan Cuadrado deserves huge credit for sprinkling his stardust on a 3-0 win over Poland in which he was magical.

Rodriguez, having not quite been fit enough to start the opener, was key as he delivered assists to both Yerry Mina and Cuadrado’s killer third goal, but it was the silky Juventus wideman who tailored this victory with a striking performance.

The 30-year-old played as many key passes as the Bayern Munich man (three), had just four less touches (84, Colombia’s second highest), embarked on as many dribbles and didn’t lose the ball once in a performance which the Polish defence will have nightmares about for the next four years.

Cuadrado signed off for the night in style as he ran onto Rodriguez’s sublime through ball and sealed an emphatic victory late on, no less than he deserved.

The goal and man-of-the-match performance must have left a sweet taste in the mouth of the Los Cafeteros star after a disjointed season heading into the World Cup at club level.

Cuadrado endured a tumultuous time of it in Turin during an injury-plagued 2017/18 campaign in which he featured just 29 times in all competitions as he was dogged by a groin problem.

His eye-catching performance in Kazan would have felt like vindication for the flying forward, and he’ll provide problems for Senegal’s defence in this pivotal Group H decider.

 

WHEN ARE WE GOING TO SEE KEITA BALDE?

Keita Balde

Monaco’s Keita Balde is a rising talent, but has not played a minute at the World Cup so far.

It’s been a bit of a surprise Senegal have not unleashed Keita Balde on the tournament yet.

Aliou Cisse swooped to snap up the dynamic forward in 2016 upon his announcement he would opt to play for the country of his parents rather than the country of his birth.

The 23-year-old starlet was born to Senegalese parents living in Spain and was a budding star at Barcelona before a prank on a teammate involving an ice cube during a youth team trip to the Middle East saw the then 15-year-old sent out on loan to satellite club UE Cornella as punishment.

Who knows if that cooled Keita’s warmth towards the Blaugrana, but after 47 goals in one season for Cornella he turned down the chance to return to the Camp Nou and signed with Serie A giants Lazio for €300,000, aged just 16.

It’s been a stellar rise since, bagging 31 goals in 137 senior appearances as he soared for Le Aquile (the Eagles) before fetching a sky-high price of £40 million from French behemoths Monaco last summer.

He captured eight goals in 33 appearances and ended a maiden season in the principality in solid form – but he is yet to be summoned from the bench in Russia.

Keita divided opinion in Ligue 1, dipping in and out of form regularly. For each electric performance, he would then fail to produce in the next game.

He is, however, a difference maker. And with the Lions of Teranga taking on a Colombia in peak form, Balde could provide the X Factor.

EXPECT GOALS

Colombia veteran Radamel Falcao is just one of a myriad of attacking options for both sides.

Colombia veteran Radamel Falcao is just one of a myriad of attacking options for both sides.

Senegal have faced South American opposition just once previously in a World Cup. On that occasion during their bow on the game’s grandest stage, they drew 3-3 in their final group game of 2002 against Uruguay.

With their defence all at sea, they conceded two sloppy goals having twice taken the lead last time out against Japan, there could be an ocean of goals in this one – with both sides boasting rich attacking content, not to mention the fact only a victory guarantees Colombia’s progression to the last 16.

After a commanding performance as Senegal opened the tournament with a somewhat surprisingly easy 2-1 victory over much-fancied Poland, Cisse’s side again looked sublime going forward as they went 1-0 and 2-1 up against Japan last time out in Yekaterinburg.

But the Samurai Blue sliced through some shoddy defence to claw themselves back into the contest each time, which will definitely be a concern for a pragmatic Cisse.

Los Cafeteros are coming into the decider off the back of a swashbuckling 3-0 blitz of the poor Poles in which progression hopes were killed off in Kazan.

After Carlos Sanchez’s early red card in their 2-1 defeat to Japan on matchday one, they blew away the blues to saunter to victory in style, a win underpinned by the brilliance of James Rodriguez as their attack hummed.

With World Cup futures on the line, two squads playing some scintillating football and boasting explosive attacking talent, there could be fireworks.

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