World Cup: Style, set pieces under scrutiny

It will fall to Raheem Sterling (left) and Jesse Lingard to create chances for Harry Kane and trouble a Colombian backline that has kept successive clean sheets against Poland and Senegal.
It will fall to Raheem Sterling (left) and Jesse Lingard to create chances for Harry Kane and trouble a Colombian backline that has kept successive clean sheets against Poland and Senegal.PHOTO: REUTERS

But Southgate is confident England can handle a Colombia comprising EPL flops

ROUND OF 16

Colombia v England

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REPINO • Gareth Southgate bristled when the subject was raised. The goal-scoring exploits of Harry Kane were put to the England coach with the question whether, despite five goals in two games, the supply line to the forward had been rich enough.

Two poacher's strikes from corners, a brace of penalties and another effort that fortuitously clipped Kane's heel would indicate room for improvement, but Southgate sees things differently.

"I think we've played really well," he said ahead of England's last-16 clash against Colombia today. "We didn't create as many outstanding opportunities against Belgium, but we had a couple. So I think the style of play and the interchange of positions of our forward players, in particular, has been really good."

The success of England's innovative set-piece routines has been a feature of their tournament to date, but against a Colombia defence, marshalled by the 1.95m Yerry Mina and 1.87m Davinson Sanchez, their guile might have to extend to open play as well.

Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard must provide Kane with balls in behind a back line that has kept successive clean sheets against Poland and Senegal.

"We have scored a lot of goals from set pieces," said Lingard, who will come back into the side having been rested against Belgium. "I don't see why we have to change. We practise day in, day out, and should be able to execute it perfectly.

"It is natural to try and find the striker... We have to be looking to slide in balls to Harry."

Ultimately, it does not matter how England attempt to score at Moscow's Spartak Stadium against a Colombian side that will feature a number of Premier League flops with points to prove.

Attackers Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado were once club colleagues too. They got a mere 11 minutes together for Chelsea, as substitutes in the 3-0 defeat by Manchester City in August 2015.

Cuadrado was gone 10 days later after a forgettable eight months.

STYLE IS SOLID

I think we've played really well. We didn't create as many outstanding opportunities against Belgium, but we had a couple. So I think the style of play and the interchange of positions of our forward players, in particular, has been really good.

GARETH SOUTHGATE, England coach, ahead of their match against Colombia.

Falcao joined Manchester United on loan from Monaco while still coming back from a knee injury that had ruled him out of the 2014 World Cup and barely played. At Chelsea, where he spent the following season on loan, he completed 90 minutes in the Premier League just once.

The Falcao captaining Colombia in Russia is much more like the Falcao of old. The Monaco man registered his first World Cup goal in the 3-0 win against Poland.

From No. 9 through to goalkeeper, the spine of the team England face are all Premier League-familiar. But none had a happy history in England.

Goalkeeper David Ospina has been with Arsenal for years - as the back-up man for league fixtures. Espanyol's Carlos Sanchez spent two seasons at Aston Villa, the last of them watching mainly from a distance, injured.

Yet Sanchez, Ospina, and Cuadrado were all part of the Colombia squad that reached the quarter-finals in 2014. Talisman James Rodriguez was vital to that run but is racing to be fit.

Ospina has warned that Jose Pekerman's side have improved since Brazil: "We are together, more experienced and a stronger squad of players than we were in Brazil. We have experience and good quality. Our players play in the best clubs, the best leagues, and are used to playing in matches of this size, so nothing will frighten us."

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2018, with the headline 'Style, set pieces under scrutiny'. Print Edition | Subscribe