Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez inspire Colombia; Robert Lewandowski struggles
KAZAN, Russia -- Three points on Colombia's 3-0 win vs. Poland in Group H at the World Cup.
1. Colombia turn on the style to boost round-of-16 hopes
Los Cafeteros turned it on in Kazan Arena, providing a strong argument that their first match in Group H against Japan, a 2-1 defeat in which Carlos Sanchez was sent off early and creative inspiration James Rodriguez played only the last 30 minutes due to a lingering calf problem, was a blip.
Poland and Colombia came into Sunday's game in the knowledge that Japan and Senegal had earlier drawn 2-2 in Ekaterinburg. As such, a loss for either would end its chances of qualifying for the later rounds.
After a scrappy opening 15 minutes in front of the 42,873 fans, most of whom appeared to be wearing Colombia's bright-yellow shirt, the South Americans took control. Jose Pekerman's men were better in possession, livelier and more willing to push forward and seemed to be a team transformed.
Not coincidentally, James was back in the starting XI and looked remarkably sharp, given that Colombian media reports suggested it was somewhat of a risk to play him. Pulling the strings from something of a false left-wing position, he lined up with Juan Fernando Quintero in the No. 10 role behind Radamel Falcao.
The pace of left-back Johan Mojica to cover the flank allows Rodriguez to roam, while the speed of center-backs Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez means playing a high line is an option for Pekerman. And it was Mina who gave Colombia the lead five minutes before half-time; Quintero played a reverse pass to Rodriguez, who clipped a left-footed cross to the far post for Mina to head in.
Poland had a spell early of dominance early in the second half but, when Falcao latched onto a Quintero through ball to put Colombia 2-0 up in the 70th minute, the game was effectively over. And as Poland continued to chase, a ball of the highest quality from Rodriguez sent Juan Cuadrado clear to net the third and send the majority of the crowd into rapture.
The movement of Rodriguez, Falcao, Quintero and Cuadrado was simply too much for Poland and suggested that, if Poland can get past Senegal and make the round of 16, it will provide a stern test for either Belgium or England.
2. Lewandowski anonymous as Poland exit
Few players were as hyped before Russia 2018 as Poland's Robert Lewandowski, but with a game to go, the striker and his team are already out.
The 29-year-old has been one of the form strikers in Europe over recent years and Poland expected him to convert his club form at Bayern Munich, but Lewandowski has been largely anonymous and certainly did not stand out for Poland on Sunday, managing only two shots on target.
The fact that Poland has not won a game since Euro 2016, in which the forward has failed to score, sums up its main issue. In Lewandowski's defense, there are not too many around him creating chances, and he did not have the support cast that was afforded to Colombia's Falcao.
But it wasn't like that was a surprise and his failure to score on the big stage is one of the disappointments of the tournament so far.
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3. Flair beats functionality
Like many games so far at this World Cup, this was a fascinating tactical and stylistic battle.
Poland pumped the ball forward from the first whistle, used long throw-ins and tried to physically imposed itself. However, the 5-2-3/3-4-3 formation of manager Adam Nawalka invited Colombia on and the Poles did not cause enough problems upfront to make their opponents think about not throwing numbers forward.
Colombia, on the other hand, looked more flexible in a 4-2-3-1. Its technical ability on the ball means possession can be maintained and damage done not only through the creation and invention of the likes of Rodriguez and Quintero, but also via fast transitions using Quintero and Falcao, as the final two goals showed.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.