Colombia and Japan meet on Tuesday to open play in Group H. These teams are grouped together for the second consecutive World Cup, as Colombia knocked off Japan 4-1 in 2014 en route to a surprise quarterfinals run.
Colombia vs. Japan Squads
This Colombia squad isn’t catching anybody by surprise in Russia, but they’ve got added firepower for a deeper run in 2018. Radamel Falcao has been a dynamic goalscorer for Monaco in recent seasons, but he missed the entire 2014 World Cup with a torn ACL. He’ll be the lone striker up top, looking to finish crosses from Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado.
And then of course there’s James Rodriguez. James was the darling of Rio, as well as the top scorer, and left with a massive contract to play for Real Madrid. Regardless of his play at the club level, he’s always better when he suits up for Los Cafeteros. Without having to pull striker duties, expect to see exciting play from James in the attacking third.
In addition to Falcao, Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez are new faces from the 2014 squad. The pair form a solid backline in front of David Ospina, who started all five matches in Brazil. Jose Pekerman will line Colombia up in a 4-2-3-1, with James playing into Falcao in the middle.
Colombia only played one friendly in preparation for the World Cup, a scoreless draw against Egypt on June 1st. That being said, they did notch a comeback victory over France back in March.
Japan have made in to Russia and their sixth consecutive World Cup, but it’s been a bumpy Spring. Japan sacked manager Vahid Halilhodzic two months ago, leaving replacement Akira Nishino little time to figure out his roster. Nishino has never managed in the World Cup, but he led the Japanese national team to a baffling win over Brazil at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Japan were disappointing leading up to Russia, dropping friendlies 0-2 to both Switzerland and Ghana, who failed to qualify for the tournament.
Despite their underdog status, Nishino has urged his players to attack and take chances against Colombia. They will rely on Gaku Sibasaki and Makoto Hasebe to anchor the midfield, but could be lacking in playmakers. Keisuke Honda is 32 and isn’t the same player he was in 2014, and forward Shinji Okazaki could miss the match with a calf injury.
With Poland also the favorite to advance in Group H, this is a big match for both teams. Points will be hard to come by for Japan, but Colombia could use all three on Tuesday to put themselves atop the grop. Los Cafeteros were able to win this matchup easily in 2014, getting three goals in the second half to win 4-1.
Colombia vs. Japan Lineups
Lineups are released one hour before kickoff
Colombia: Ospina, Arias, Dávinson Sánchez, Murillo, Mojica, Sánchez, Lerma, Cuadrado, Quintero, Izquierdo, Falcao.
Japan: Kawashima, Shoji, Nagatomo, H. Sakai, Yoshida, Shibasaki, Haraguchi, Kagawa, Inui, Hasebe, Osako.