Gareth Southgate could never have imagine for England to be in the side of the draw where his team are one of the favourites to make the final of the World Cup. Because, somehow, beyond belief, that is what it has come to.
With Spain falling at hands of Russia, one of: Croatia, England, Colombia, Sweden or Switzerland will make the 2018 final. This tournament has thrown up some immense drama and storylines, and this is another one with the way the England draw has fallen.
After their 1-0 defeat to Belgium ‘B’, the mood had changed ever so slightly around England, with some sections of the media claiming Southgate should have put out a stronger team in order to win the group and keep momentum going. It was not as if Southgate wanted to lose the game, but winning was not the main priority.
Colombia have started to wake up in this tournament and finished top of Group H after defeating Senegal in the last round. Manager José Pékerman is sweating over James Rodriguez’s fitness levels, but they also do have an inform Juan Quintero who can pick up the pieces and get his team on the front foot.
It was clear as day that Southgate rested his more important players in order to be fit and firing for this round of 16 match against Colombia. The Three Lions are 17/2 to beat the South Americans and move into the quarter finals with Betfair.
The likes of Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker were not present at any point throughout the match. While the result is never going to be pleasing, it has allowed the Three Lions to join the side of the draw which is considerably weaker.
Even without missing one of the games, Kane still tops the race for the Golden Boot award with five goals. The Tottenham centre forward is a player that continues to strive for the best and will want to make sure he keeps adding to that tally throughout the knockout rounds to help consolidate further advancement for his team.
It can be said that matters and circumstances change when nations reach knockout football: Croatia, for instance, were playing Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland off the park in the group stages, but looked a shadow of themselves when they faced Denmark which eventually went to penalties.
In Kane’s first World Cup, there is going to be that added pressure of being the main goalscorer in the knockout rounds. You do not have another chance to correct any poor performances. It really is all or nothing.
However, as shown so far and throughout his club career, Kane can handle pressure. He might still be 24-years-old, but he is a leader for the two teams he plays for and has delivered on countless occasions for Spurs.
In this match, Kane is 3/1 with BetVictor to be the first goalscorer of the match - which also happened in England’s opening game against Tunisia - and 6/5 to find the back of the net at any moment throughout. Those odds suggest how prolific Kane has been and the instrumental role he plays in Southgate’s team.
Both nations have been involved in two matches during the group games which ended in over 2.5 goals, which suggests there are goals waiting in the wings for these teams.
As shown in the earlier rounds, when Colombia and England’s defences have been put under pressure, they are inclined to crumble or make a mistake. With Southgate’s use of a three-man defence, the emphasis to move the ball forward does lie with the centre backs, who are not the most gifted in possession.
At times throughout the earlier matches, Maguire has been found misplacing passes which has caused the opposition to break away and create chances. Against a team as prolific as Colombia, that simply cannot happen if England are to make it through.
Pékerman’s team are a gifted team in possession and will hurt any country they come up against if they are focussed, but most of their danger comes from Bayern Munich midfielder Rodriguez. While the Colombia Football Association has claimed the injury is not as serious as first thought, there is still doubt in Colombia’s camp as to whether he can start and finish the game.
With the way these two teams are set up, there is going to be goals. Both defences have been found wanting at the back during parts of their group games, and both have forward lines that contain some of the most prolific players in world football. William Hill have priced over 2.5 goals during the match at 13/8.
As a neutral, you just hope that Colombia and England are unfazed by the stage they are on and perform to their absolute maximum level. They will not have another opportunity like this for a very long time, which amps the tension up tenfold, but should provide bettors with a cracking game.