Is a better scenario for England to be playing Colombia in the last 16 and then Sweden or Switzerland in the quarter-finals or Japan next and possibly Brazil before the final of the World Cup? The question is hypothetical because England lost to Belgium, finished second in the group and have to face a group winner in the next round. If England win the World Cup all will be forgotten but if Colombia knock tem out Gareth Southgate will be in for a hard time but his job looks safe.
Colombia are not a bad team but nothing special. They are 16th in the FIFA rankings and strong at both ends of the field. Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez are class acts in attack and the centre backs have youth and potential. Colombia conceded two goals against Japan after having a player sent off but have won both subsequent matches to nil against Poland and Senegal to win their group. Colombia reached the quarter-finals in Brazil in 2014 but lost to the hosts.
It is in midfield where Colombia come up short. Two of the current squad members in that area of the field are both in their thirties and have won more than 70 caps. There is a lack of competition which means the quality in each box is undermined by a lack of creativity in the middle of the field. Colombia will be a tougher nut to crack than Japan and the rewards for getting past the South Americans are potentially wonderful for England who should have nothing to fear in this tie.
Very little can be learnt from England’s defeat to Belgium in the third group match. We do know that the Belgium reserves are better than the England reserves or less able to disguise not wanting to win the match. There were 17 changes from the previous starting line-ups so in the context of maintaining form and momentum the fixture was meaningless. A definite result at least meant the group was not decided by the number of yellow and red cards. Surely there is a better way to split teams when they have identical records, such as corners or shots on target.
The bookmakers see England as the favourites to progress to the next round and as is stands the favourite in the round of elimination market is the semi-finals. England have a massive incentive to win the last 16 tie but equally so do Colombia. England have a better midfield and in Harry Kane one of the best strikers in the world but the defence and goalkeeper are worries. Jordan Pickford must lose the habit of punching shots back into the danger area rather than catching the ball. However, on balance England have enough to win this tie and then who knows what happens next!
There are clear favourites in four other ties but the meetings between France and Argentina and Portugal and Uruguay are difficult to call as is the tie that brings together Sweden and Switzerland and potentially England’s next opponents. Argentina could have some momentum and Uruguay look strong but the team England play in the last 8, assuming the right result against Colombia, is a toss of a coin but the name will begin with Sw! After that your guess is good as mine but lets hope the opponents are England and not Colombia.