Radamel Falcao and Harry Kane set for a shootout, plus other Colombia v England key battles

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Radamel Falcao will look to get on the score sheet against England

England’s progress is set to come under serious examination when they battle Colombia, potentially robbed of star playmaker James Rodriguez’s services, in World Cup 2018’s round of 16.

Here are the key battles:

RADAMEL FALCAO V HARRY KANE

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Falcao has waited a long time for this moment.

The 32-year-old missed out on Colombia’s run to the quarter-finals four years ago through a serious knee injury. He’ll be determined to ensure a repeat is attained this time.

Falcao toiled up with the 10 men of Colombia against Japan then stylishly struck with the outside of his boot against Poland. Against Senegal, the early withdrawal of James Rodriguez harmed his supply line.

Facing English opposition could unsettle ‘El Tigre’, after two woeful seasons on loan at Manchester United and Chelsea from 2014-16. But it is not yet known how Gareth Southgate’s react to being asked serious defensive questions.

With Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi now departed, a space in the spotlight is open for the next global superstar.

Tottenham and England skipper Kane has all the credentials to fill it. With five goals already to his name in Russia, he’ll be desperate to add to his figure against Los Cafeteros.

The 24-year-old’s predatory instincts saw a brace struck against Tunisia from corners. He then dispatched two penalties and benefited from a lucky deflection against Panama.

Remarkably, these five goals have come from six attempts on goal. Spurs club-mate Davinson Sanchez will need to be on his best form for Colombia.

JUAN FERNANDO QUINTERO V JESSE LINGARD

England Media Access - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Quintero has been one of this World Cup’s great success stories.

Since the previous edition, the anachronistic central playmaker has bounced between parent club Porto, Rennes, Independiente Medellin and River Plate. Accusations of excess weight and a poor attitude bedevilled him.

But Colombia head coach Jose Pekerman’s desire to inject his side with creativity has been rewarded in style. With Rodriguez a severe injury doubt, his understudy’s importance will only grow.

With gaps to be found on the flanks of England’s 3-1-4-2 formation, Quintero will be key.

Lingard will not want 2017/18 to end.

The 25-year-old has gone from bit-part player at Manchester United and England, to essential for both.

Lingard’s ability to link play has been valued by Southgate since their days together in the Under-21s. This reliance and faith has been extended to the seniors, where it was repaid in style with his sumptuous curler from range against Panama.

His fleet of foot and thought will push Sanchez to the brink.

CARLOS SANCHEZ V JORDAN HENDERSON

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Sanchez’s World Cup couldn’t have got off to a worse start.

A handball less than three minutes into the opener against Japan saw him given the second-quickest red card in World Cup. Without their defensive midfielder on the pitch, Colombia slumped to a 2-1 loss.

Returned to the side against Senegal, his influence was apart with three tackles the second most among his team-mates. The former Aston Villa flop will need to prove his quality against England.

Henderson’s strong finish to the season with Liverpool has been extended to the World Cup.

The 28-year-old has raced clear of Tottenham’s Eric Dier in the pecking order for the midfield holding role. A major contributor to this is his excellent range of passing, with 12 long balls attempted so far this tournament.

Southgate could decide to partner Henderson with Dier to add midfield ballast against Colombia. But if there is only one anchoring spot available, then the former is the outstanding candidate.

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England hopes set for stern Colombia examination and other talking points

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England’s progress is set to come under serious examination when they battle Colombia, potentially robbed of star playmaker James Rodriguez’s services, in World Cup 2018’s round of 16.

The Three Lions gained renown for dispatching minnows Tunisia and Panama. Then a widely debated decision to field back-ups led to a 1-0 loss to Belgium to finish second in Group G, from which a comfortable route to the last-four opened up.

For Colombia, they recovered from losing with 10 men against Japan to beat Poland and Senegal. Group H’s winners, however, are sweating on Rodriguez’s availability because of a lingering calf complaint.

Here are the talking points ahead of Tuesday’s clash at Spartak Stadium:

ENGLAND’S KNOCKOUT BLOWS

Only England head coach Gareth Southgate will know whether he actively sought the path of least resistance.

After the brouhaha caused when dusting off the stiffs for a soulless 1-0 defeat to second-string Belgium when Group G reached an unseemly end, comes reality.

Colombia, followed by either Sweden or Switzerland. Rather than Japan, followed by Brazil or Mexico.

A combined tally of two World Cups won on their side of the draw, compared to 10 on the other.

Thursday’s failure has gained obvious reward.

Regardless of Colombia’s obvious strengths, and a fair few weaknesses, England face their friendliest run to the World Cup semi-finals since 1990.

But this is not the end of the debate. Not by a long shot.

Since the Three Lions lifted the hallowed Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966, football’s founding nation has suffered knockout blow after knockout blow.

They’ve won just five matches in 52 years once the group games are done – two of these coming during a special Italian summer soundtracked by Luciano Pavarotti when Belgium and Cameroon were conquered.

The other victims were Paraguay in 1986, Denmark in 2002 and Ecuador in 2006. Hardly a list of heavyweights.

This situation can be viewed in contrasting fashion.

Either England have not earned the right to feel comfortable about any opponent, or the avoidance of a likely quarter-final against Brazil was worth pursuing no matter the cost in lost momentum.

The truth will out, beginning at Spartak Stadium.

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SET-PIECE SHOWDOWN

Defenders must be on their best behaviour in the Russian capital.

Colombia and England have been this edition’s set-piece kings. Between them, nine goals have come via corner-kicks, free-kicks or penalties.

For the South Americans, this represents three efforts from five in total. A figure that include Porto-owned playmaker Juan Quintero’s daisy cutter in the opening 2-1 loss to Japan, plus Barcelona centre-back Yerry Mina’s towering headers in the 3-0 defeat of Poland and 1-0 victory against Senegal – courtesy of Everton anchor man Idrissa Gueye’s schoolboy defending.

The Three Lions have dead balls to thank for six of their eight strikes. Some turnaround from Harry Kane’s perplexing output at Euro 2016.

The Tottenham superstar bagged from two corners in the 2-1 win against Tunisia, plus put away a brace of penalties in the 6-1 routing of Panama.

Manchester City centre-back John Stones also got two against the Central Americans from set-pieces.

The supreme delivery of Spurs wing-back Kieran Trippier has been central to this profitable return.

A raft of 6ft-plus figures will be eager to strike again at Spartak. Mina is joined by fellow centre-back Davinson Sanchez for the Colombians.

The latter’s inside knowledge from Spurs could help combat the likes of club-mate Kane, Stones and Leicester City giant Harry Maguire.

Air supremacy should carry the day.

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COLOMBIA ARE IN A JAM

The expression on Colombia head coach Jose Pekerman’s face did not betray much joy about progression to the knockouts.

Images of Rodriguez pounding the turf in pain just 31 minutes into the Senegal denouement flooded his mind. Describing the Bayern Munich loanee as ‘essential’ to the nation’s hopes does not do his influence justice.

“I’m very concerned, it’s very worrying,” said Pekerman, who in a best-case scenario will only have a half-fit playmaker to select after another flare up of a nagging calf problem.

“It’s a very difficult situation for us. I do not know where he stands right now.

“I can’t say any more because I just don’t know.”

Rodriguez, of course, struck six times during the 2014 edition to fire Colombia to the quarter-finals for the first time. With them, he earned both the Golden Boot and a blockbuster move to Real Madrid.

This summer, the 26-year-old could only play the final 30 minutes in the opening reversal to Japan. But his virtuoso display against Poland, which included the pass of the tournament for Juan Cuadrado’s breakaway, spoke of his enduring ability – and importance.

Quintero’s impish skills have helped fill Rodriguez’s gap in absentia. His renaissance could be tested again versus England.

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Dele Alli return gives England something to ponder and other Colombia tactical battles

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England’s progress is set to come under serious examination when they battle Colombia, potentially robbed of star playmaker James Rodriguez’s services, in World Cup 2018’s round of 16.

Here are the key tactical battles ahead of Tuesday’s clash at Spartak Stadium:

DOES DELE COME BACK IN?

It is a good problem to have for England head coach Gareth Southgate.

A thigh strain late in the first half of England’s opening 2-1 win against Tunisia has since robbed the Three Lions boss of Dele Alli’s presence. In his absence, Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek has impressed.

With Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard looking untouchable, it appears a straight choice between Alli and Loftus-Cheek. On weight of goals, the former easily wins favour – 37 career Premier League efforts to just three.

But if England want to combat Colombia’s set-piece threat, Loftus-Cheek’s superior height – 6 ft 3 in to 6 ft 2 in – is worth considering. Goalkeeper David Ospina’s propensity to flap at crosses could also be exacerbated by Loftus-Cheek.

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WHAT TO DO ABOUT JAMES?

Picking gaps in England’s 3-1-4-2 formation appeared a task Colombia are eminently capable of pulling off.

That was until James Rodriguez’s calf injury flared up against Senegal. If the Bayern Munich loanee struggles to make a third World Cup 2018 start, it leaves boss Jose Pekerman with plenty to ponder.

On-song Juan Quintero will relish pulling the strings. The decision then is whether to go for two pure wingers, another playmaker or a forward.

Brighton wide man Jose Izquierdo underwhelmed against Japan. Sevilla forward Luis Muriel then replaced Rodriguez early on against Senegal, but Colombia laboured to victory.

How they must rue the indiscretions of abandoned Edwin Cardona. There is no easy fix to replace someone of Rodriguez’s gifts.

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PACE IS THE KEY

England’s successes in Russia have been based on the twinning of set-piece proficiency with sharp, incisive build-up play.

Expect the former-mentioned aspect to be cancelled out by the combative Colombians. Battles in the air will be relished by centre-backs Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez.

But it is on the ground where England can hope to gain joy. Sanchez has badly missed Tottenham club-mate Jan Vertonghen’s guidance, putting in a calamitous display against Japan.

Lingard was taken off early against Panama and rested versus Belgium, meaning his spot in the XI should be safe.

Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling has not scored internationally since October 2015. But his nimble feet have the potential to unsettle more than substitute Marcus Rashford.

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