KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW: England are expected to be at full strength for the national team’s most important match since they were despatched from the same stage of the World Cup in controversial circumstances in 2010.
Eight years ago Fabio Capello’s team were beaten 4-1 by Germany in the Bloemfontein second-round tie which featured the ‘phantom goal’ from Frank Lampard which opened the door to electronic assistance for referees – first goal-line technology and now VAR.
England play Colombia at Moscow Spartak now in the second round of the 2018 finals knowing that – whether by design or accident – their second-place finish in Group G landed them in a wide-open side of the draw.
If England repeat their 2-0 victory over Colombia from the 1998 group stage they will face Sweden or Switzerland in the quarter-finals and a further victory would mean a semi-final at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow against Russia or Croatia.
Manager Gareth Southgate is expected to recall his first-choice starters, after making nine changes for the group completion defeat by Belgium, with Dele Alli coming back in after first-game injury as attacking support for his Tottenham team-mate Harry Kane.
England captain Kane, one of the rested absentees against Belgium, is the finals’ five-goal leading scorer following, on four goals, by Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
After training at Spartak, Southgate said: “We didn’t see any point in bringing him back too early. He is absolutely fine now. He brings that ability to see spaces in opposition defencess, time his runs into the box and finish.
“That hasn’t always happened for us as much as for (his) club up to this point but there is no doubt he has the ability and the techniques to do that. His performance against Tunisia before he got injured was really top, the way he pressed and his work without the ball was outstanding.”
Reviewing England’s progress in general and poor tournament record over the past decade, Southgate said: “It is over 10 years (2006) since we won a knockout fixture so for this team this is a brilliant opportunity to go beyond where more experienced teams have gone before.
“I think they are relishing that chance, the energy in training today was really good… we are viewing the game as one against an opponent we really respect. These are the games you want to be involved in, the games that matter, the lads have the chance to write their own stories now.”
Colombia remain apparently uncertain whether playmaker James Rodriguez will be fit to play some part in the game after suffering a recurrence of a leg injury in their 1-0 group win over Senegal.
Their Argentinian coach Jose Pekerman, who led Colombia to the quarter-finals in Brazil in 2014 said: “We are assessing all our players, including James.
“We have a lot of potential as a team and we have come to this World Cup hoping to do what we did in Brazil — play a good tournament and show that we are on the same level as top teams like England.”