Colombia star James Rodriguez will be given until the last possible moment to prove he is fit to face England, but time appears to be running out.
Rodriguez suffered a calf injury during Los Cafeteros’ final group game against Senegal and has yet to return to full training ahead of the last-16 clash in Moscow.
The 26-year-old won the Golden Boot at the 2014 tournament, but as his team-mates made their final preparations for the knockout clash with the Three Lions, he was left on the sidelines going through a light stretching routine and talking to medical staff.
For a player of lesser stature or importance to the side, that might have been enough to rule him out of action. For Rodriguez, it merely lessened the odds.
“We have had good news after his medical tests,” said manager Jose Pekerman at his pre-match press conference on Monday afternoon.
“After his MRI we know he doesn’t have a serious injury. We still have one and a half days to see how he feels and, as always, we hope he will be able to play for the following games.”
Pressed for further details, the Argentinian coach said only: “You will know my team one hour before kick-off.”
Should the Real Madrid forward be restricted to bench duties, Sevilla’s Luis Muriel is his likely replacement, but the burden of responsibility is likely to lay even heavier on the shoulders of Radamel Falcao.
Falcao is not just Colombia’s record scorer but a player with a prolific CV at both Atletico Madrid and Monaco. He enjoyed a brief and largely unremarkable spell in English football, failing to live up to his feared reputation on the continent during lacklustre loan spells with both Manchester United and Chelsea.
“It is true I didn’t shine as I wanted to but that is part of the past,” said the 32-year-old, who netted just five times in two seasons with the Premier League sides.
“For tomorrow’s game I can only say it is beautiful to be here to play against England. It is normal for people in England to think they’re favourites, but we want to concentrate on the weapons and skills we have.
“It is a match we have always dreamt of playing since we were young. Our players are really looking forward to that. We hope to be able to enjoy the game, but we know we have a huge responsibility. We know we have a great opportunity.”
England boss Gareth Southgate insisted his team would not be underplaying the threat of Falcao, believing his time with United and Chelsea was not a fair representation of his talent.
“You have to remember he was recovering from an ACL injury in England. I saw him play at Atletico Madrid and he was an incredible striker,” he said.
“His movement in the box is outstanding for his country. We know the quality of his finishing. He’s a player we know all about and wouldn’t judge him on the period he had in the Premier League, that’s for sure.”
Pekerman repaid the compliment, praising the finishing prowess of England’s five-goal captain Harry Kane.
“Kane is a great player. He is very efficient, a great scorer and he’s playing very well now,” said the 68-year-old.
“He is one of the main scorers in the world. We need to be very careful about him and to avoid giving any opportunities. When you have a forward like him it can be very, very difficult to stop him.”
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