Although at the time of writing it has yet to be confirmed, the whispers on the wind seem to suggest that James Rodriguez will be fit for this tie. His importance to this team can best be illustrated by the opening half hour of their final group game against Senegal. Needing the win to secure progress, Colombia were a pale ghost of the team who had so ruthlessly dispatched Poland in the game previous and the reason why was confirmed when Rodriguez was substituted with a quarter of an hour still to play in the first half. Without his intelligence on and off the ball, his conductor-like ability to bring the best out of the orchestra around him, Colombia could barely function. That they made it in the end, was down to doggedness and their giant centre-half, Yerry Mina but, with the stakes as well as the quality of opposition rising, his presence will be sorely required.
Anyone who has thrown a cursory glance at the English media of late might be forgiven for thinking that the nation as a whole is one of unremitting optimism. Nothing could be further from the truth but in a country riven by domestic political imbecility, their team has given them something approaching genuine hope. It is customary for England’s tabloid press to have torn their team to shreds by this stage of the competition and for the players to perform in full knowledge of the slings and arrows awaiting them on their return but this time, it’s different. Expectations were low coming into the tournament but have risen steadily since, even if two of their games were against much lesser sides. The nation appears to believe in this team and, crucially, the players appear to believe in themselves too.
It’s difficult to know how good or bad this England team is. We know they are not world beaters – not yet, anyway – and their first team haven’t played anyone of note yet but they have a system they are comfortable playing and they have Harry Kane, the everyman superman, up front. That’s a pretty good platform to be operating off for knockout football. Their three-man defence has looked unsteady at times, though; John Stones always seems to have a mistake in him and Kyle Walker’s entire career has been as a marauding full-back, not one of a centre-back three. That said, if they fall, it won’t be for the lack of trying or believing, and that in itself can be a form of victory.
If it feels like that is damning them with faint, praise, you may be onto something. This column reckons that, should Rodriguez be available and firing, Colombia will have too much for England’s defence to comfortably deal with over 90 minutes; do any England fans out there relish the thought of Ashley Young trying to keep up with Cuadrado in a foot race or the Colombia winger not ‘buying the foul’ and collapsing into an exaggerated heap when inside the box? As it turns out, this column is at odds with the bookies (not for the first time) as they make England strong favourites to win at just over evens. We think, however, if Rodriguez is fit to start, that it will be Colombia who do it and, as such, we quite like the price of 31/10 currently being dangled by various bookies for that outcome. If Rodriguez is not fit, though, go with England.
Switzerland are Worthy Favourites to Beat Sweden
Not exactly the most exciting tie of the last 16, this. For the respective nations, of course. but for the rest of us, perhaps not so much. Let’s look at some of the positives Sweden bring to the table: in a group containing Germany, Mexico and South Korea, they finished top which is a remarkable achievement. Of course, if Germany hadn’t made such a bags of things in their final game against South Korea and won, then Sweden wouldn’t have progressed at all. On such whimsies does life revolve.
For all that whataboutery, they had to win their final game after enduring a late, late loss in their second game; a result that would have done for the mental fortitude of many other teams so we can say without fear that they are not lacking in character and resolve. That they are lacking in outstanding quality might not be such a hindrance, though – just take a look at what Russia managed and what Denmark so nearly did to Croatia. Grit and determination can still carry teams with a deficit in talent even at this late stage.
Switzerland are choc-a-bloc with talent, relative to their opponents. Anyone who can cast their mind back as far the 22nd of June – seems like a lifetime ago at this stage – will remember the outrageous ability on display by the (contractually obliged to refer to him as) Alpine Messi, Xherdan Shaqiri. Granit Xhaka, too, put on a display that left Arsenal fans the world over scratching their heads, wondering what weird facsimile they have on their books. That match was against Serbia and as such, there was a whole more going on there than just football so is it possible that Switzerland will find it difficult to plumb those emotional depths again, to pull out a performance commensurate with this tie against Sweden?
Switzerland have reached the quarter-finals on three occasions and are currently ranked 6th in the world by FIFA so perhaps it won’t be too difficult at all. The bookmakers are of the opinion that they will but only just with Sweden being priced at in and around 2/1 but this column is minded to err on the side of the market and back a Switzerland win. The best price currently about on that outcome is 17/10.