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Colombia’s triple hammer blow dumps
Sometimes the answer comes by changing the question. Rather than asking whether he should play James Rodríguez – now he was sufficiently recovered from his calf injury to start – or Juan Quintero, and coming up with a fairly obvious response, José Pékerman selected both and was rewarded not merely with a result that keeps alive Colombia’s hopes of making the last 16, but with a performance that made them look like a side that could go a long, long way in the tournament.
Rodríguez and Quintero are contrasting No 10s, the modern dynamic runner and the more traditional variant, to be celebrated, perhaps, for what might most politely be referred to as his cerebral approach and economy of movement. Playing them together seemed a major risk, but along with Juan Cuadrado, Colombia’s creative trident picked Poland apart with clinical beauty. “More than once we felt that combination could be a good one,” said Pékerman. “They are two players with extraordinary talent. Tonight they contributed these great talents and played in a very complementary fashion.”
On loan at River Plate from Porto, Quintero is a throwback, more cask than six-pack in tone, a player whose reluctance to submit to the more rigorous aspects of professionalism has frustrated a series of coaches. He had already played one astute reverse pass when, after 40 minutes, he played another to find Rodríguez in space on the right. His cross was perfect, and Yerry Mina nodded in from close range. Given he has only completed 90 minutes twice this year, it was no great surprise that Quintero was taken off after 73 minutes but before he went, he played in Radamel Falcao to score with an incisive prod of his left foot. A brilliant Rodríguez pass laid on the third for Cuadrado, who also had
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a fine game, attacking the space behind the Poland wing-back Maciej Rybus.
Pékerman dedicated the victory to Carlos Sánchez, who was sent off in the opening defeat to Japan. Although he refused to confirm whether the former Aston Villa midfielder had received death threats, as has been reported, he did say Sánchez had been “deeply affected”. “I think we all understand that football really is something else. It is ultimately a game we play with a lot of responsibility, dedication and effort and so forth, but
these things shouldn’t be said lightly.”
Pékerman took responsibility himself for the Japan defeat, admitting he had “made mistakes”. With the combination of Quintero and Rodríguez, though, they had found a way of playing that was “close to the goal of how we wanted to play.” This was probably Colombia’s best performance since the last World Cup; Pékerman sides are always at their best when counterattacking with rapid, precise geometry.
Poland, unfortunately, continue to be at their best when they are not in tournaments. Adam Nawalka’s switch to a back three, although he had trialled it in the pre-tournament friendly against Nigeria, seemed in retrospect a warning. All through qualifying he had used either a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1; this was a sign that that team
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was effectively over and that, at the worst possible time, he was trying to forge a new one. As he sat helpless in the face of a barrage of hostile questions from the Polish media, the celebrations of Colombia
fans clearly audible from outside the stadium, he did his best to defend the indefensible, insisting Poland had simply been beaten by the better side. That may be true, but it’s equally true that Poland were a better side in qualifying.
Tactically, perhaps, setting a wing-back in Rybus against Cuadrado was a risk, and one that didn’t come close to paying off, but Poland’s struggles were about far more than that. There was a strange lifelessness about them while Robert Lewandowksi, who had seemed out of sorts towards the end of the season, most notably
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in the Champions League semi-final,
was again listless, nothing like the figure who scored 16 goals in qualifying.
For Poland the pattern is frustratingly familiar at major tournaments, and has been since 1982. They qualify well, hopes are raised and then they find that on the highest stage the shirt hangs heavy, players lose faith in what got them there and the result is a safety-first style that results in grouchiness and early exits.
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