Colombia’s triple hammer blow dumps Poland out of World Cup

Colombia players celebrate
Yerry Mina celebrates with Davinson Sánchez after scoring Colombia’s first goal in their emphatic victory against Poland in Group H. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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 Pekerman 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 styles of No 10, 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.

On loan at River Plate from Porto, Quintero is a throw-back, 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. 

His talent, though, is not in question, and in one cleverly disguised reverse pass for Abel Aguilar after 20 minutes, he gave notice of his imagination, his capacity to see avenues others cannot see.

That should have been a warning to Poland, but it was not. They remained oddly sluggish, a world away from the side that had qualified so impressively, offering little but brawn and, at times, brutality. 

Colombia for a time seemed as though they may be drawn into the scrap, but instead they began to play, even after a 32nd-minute injury to Abel Aguilar left them without either of their first-choice central midfielders.

Cuadrado began to make in-roads on the right, driving into the space behind the left wing-back Maciej Rybus, but the goal, when it came, was a result of smart interplay between the two number 10s. 

Again it was the reverse ball from Quintero that unlocked the Polish gate, but this time the recipient was Rodríguez, who had drifted to the right to take a corner. His cross was perfect, and Yerry Mina, who had returned to the side after surprisingly being omitted from the opener for Óscar Murillo, nodded in from close range.

Quintero was the creator of the second as well. The widespread expectation had been that he would last only 70 minutes; as it was, he lasted 73, and three minutes before he went off he laid in Falcao to score with an incisive prod of his left foot.

And with that, Poland were done. Desperately seeking a lifeline, they lost shape and discipline, and when possession was lost from a throw-in deep in the Colombia half, they were eviscerated by Rodríguez. 

Cuadrado was the beneficiary this time as Colombia began to look the side they did at the last World Cup. Like so many Pekerman sides, Colombia are at their best when they can break with rapid, geometric precision.

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 was effectively over and that, at the worst possible time, he was trying to forge a new one.

Tactically, perhaps, setting wing-back in Rybus against Cuadrado was a risk, 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 in the Champions League semi-final, was again listless, nothing like the figure who scored 16 goals in qualifying. 

Only once was there a glimmer of the true Lewandowski as he took down a long ball over the top to create a chance from nothing, only to drive his finish into David Ospina’s midriff.

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. 

Colombia, meanwhile, fight on. Unless Paland do them an unlikely favour they will probably have to beat Senegal to qualify, but at least, now there is hope.
Courtesy: The Guardian (UK)

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