Robert Lewandowski collected the ball in space just outside the area, and unleashed a shot with his right foot. Unlike most of his efforts in the previous 88 minutes, this was perfect. Poland’s star striker sent the ball fizzing towards goal, with only an injured David Ospina standing in his way. A goal wouldn’t win Poland the match, or even save them from the recriminations sure to follow after a meek surrender to a very dangerous Colombian team. It would, however, give them, and Lewandowski, something to take from a thoroughly disheartening performance. Ospina leapt to make the save, defying his sore leg to keep Poland’s captain at bay, the score remained at 3-0, and Poland didn’t even get their consolation goal. It was just one of those days.
A draw between Senegal and Japan meant the loser of this clash would be eliminated, and both sides came out determined to come away with the three points. The result was plenty of physical play and a steady procession of injury breaks in the first 10 minutes, with Johan Mojica, Michał Pazdan, Yerry Mina and Ospina going down with various ailments. The constant interruptions meant neither side was able to get much continuous attacking play going, and there were few clear opportunities in the game’s early stages. Colombia began to build into play a bit better as the game progressed, getting their attacking players involved more regularly. Juan Cuadrado looked particularly dangerous, showing his skills when he beat Maciej Rybus and Grzegorz Krychowiak to storm into the box. He couldn’t quite turn it into something more. The threat was there, however, and shortly afterwards they scored with the only shot on target of the match.Embed from Getty Images
Robert Lewandowski (in white) attempts to beat a swarm of Colombian defenders. Lewandowski had little impact on the match, with Colombia putting plenty of pressure on him every time he received the ball.
The goal came from a brilliant combination between Colombia’s talented triumvirate of playmakers, whose clever corner routine caught the Polish defence out. Cuadrado won the corner, finding space on the right, crossing the ball into an opponent and watching as it rolled over the line. James Rodríguez, back in the starting line-up after recovering from injury, took the corner and passed to Cuadrado, who found Juan Fernando Quintero in space outside the box. Quintero shaped to shoot from range, the Polish defence took the bait and he rolled a look-away pass to James, now completely unoccupied. James’ first-time cross was perfect, landing on the head of Mina just inside the six-yard-box. It was a perfectly timed and executed move, and it was impossible for the centre-back to miss from such close range.
Poland needed to score in the second half, but nothing was working for them. Whenever they got the ball, Colombia swarmed them, depriving them of the time they needed to make things happen. Lewandowski had been shut down all game, and it didn’t get any better as Colombia denied him service with their excellent pressing game. Poland’s most dangerous moments came on the few occasions where Colombia conceded a throw-in in their defensive third and Łukasz Piszczek displayed impressive range on his heaves into the area. As impressive as Piszczek’s throws were, they ultimately came to nothing and the fact that they were Poland’s best chance of scoring was an indictment on their attacking players. Then Colombia scored twice in quick succession, and put the game to bed.Embed from Getty Images
Radamel Falcao celebrates after scoring Colombia’s second goal. The goal was 32-year-old Falcao’s first at a World Cup, after the Colombian captain missed the 2014 edition with a knee injury.
The second goal came on the break, with Quintero finding the ball in space and threading a perfect ball through the Polish defence. Radamel Falcao got on the end of it, collecting the ball past the defence with just Wojciech Szczęsny to beat. He did it comfortably, rolling it past the helpless goalkeeper into the bottom corner. Falcao’s long-awaited first World Cup goal (he missed the last tournament with injury) all but sealed the win for Colombia, and it triggered raucous celebrations within the large Colombian sections of the crowd. Then they got the third to leave Poland with no chance of recovery. It came on the break, with Cuadrado making a dangerous run through the centre and latching onto a long ball from James. The Polish defence gave chase, but they were never going to catch him, and Szczęsny couldn’t do a thing as Cuadrado slotted the ball coolly into the bottom corner.
Poland had most of the attacking play in the meaningless final stages of a game that had already been decided, but there was a disheartened look about their play and they never seriously looked like reducing the deficit. Their campaign started full of excitement, with a consistent core of quality players. With one game to spare, they’re already eliminated and now face a struggle to salvage something from the smouldering wreck that was their World Cup aspirations. For Colombia, the World Cup dream is alive and kicking, and a fascinating match-up with Senegal awaits. All their stars were firing, and their clinical demolition of the Polish should stand them in good stead for the rest of the tournament.
Kazan – Kazan Arena
Colombia 3 (Mina 40, Falcao 70, Cuadrado 75)
Referee: César Ramos (Mex)
Poland (3-4-3): Szczęsny – Piszczek, Bednarek, Pazdan (Glik 80); Bereszyński (Teodorczyk 72), Krychowiak, Góralski, Rybus; Zieliński, Lewandowski, Kownacki (Grosicki 57).
Colombia (4-2-3-1): Ospina – Arias, D Sánchez, Mina, Mojica; Aguilar (Uribe 32), Barrios; Cuadrado, Quintero (Lerma 73), Rodríguez; Falcao (Bacca 78).
1. Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
Cuadrado was in brilliant touch, making raids down the right-wing and giving Poland plenty of nervous moments when he got free on the break. He found a goal late when he received the ball in behind the defence, and his pace, skill and vision made him a very potent weapon for Colombia.
2. Juan Fernando Quintero (Colombia)
Quintero played plenty of beautiful passes in behind the Polish defence, and he managed to slip the ball through their back three with almost contemptuous ease. His look-away pass to James caught the Polish defence off guard, and apart from being a stunning moment of skill it also played a key role in the first goal. He seems to have come to the World Cup in very ominous form.
3. Radamel Falcao (Colombia)
Falcao had to wait a long time for his World Cup debut, and after the pain of missing out four years ago he finally managed his first World Cup goal with a classy one-on-one finish. He battled hard in the air all day, and combined well with the creative trio of James, Cuadrado and Quintero to make the Colombian attack tick.
4. James Rodríguez (Colombia)
James wasn’t necessarily at his absolute best, but he still managed to find two assists with some nice passes. His combination with Quintero and Cuadrado was very dangerous, and his work drifting across the field caused plenty of issues for the Colombians. If he hits his best form Colombia will be a dangerous opponent.
5. Jan Bednarek (Poland)
Bednarek had a tough job at the heart of the Polish defence, but he made some good challenges and looked more assured than many of his teammates. At the age of just 22, Bednarek could be an excellent prospect and he could be one of the few positives Poland take from an otherwise disastrous campaign.