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Colombia's players warm up during a training session at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on July 2, 2018 on the eve of the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Colombia and England. / AFP PHOTO / Francisco LEONG

Gareth Southgate’s England will face their first real test at the on-going FIFA World Cup in Russia when they meet Colombia in the last of the second round matches today at the Spartak Moscow Stadium.

Southgate rates the match as the Three Lions’ biggest encounter in over 10 years and one does not have to wander far to know why.

Since England’s unfortunate ouster by Germany in the 2010 edition, the Three Lions have not had any clear chance of progressing to the last four of the competition.

A win today will pave the way for Harry Kane’s side to start dreaming of their first semifinals as their last four opponent would either be Switzerland or Sweden, two teams the England faithful believe would not pose much threat to their cup ambition. But first the Colombia obstacle.

England started their campaign on a whirlwind note with victories over Tunisia and minnows, Panama.

When they were faced with their first real test in Belgium, a second string side lost to the Belgians’ reserves, thus raising questions over their title credentials.

Now is the time for Harry Kane and his warriors to answer those questions.

England has had much longer time to regroup after their last game against Belgium and such is the belief among their supporters that if key stars like Kane, Jordan Henderson and Kieran Trippier turned up looking fresh and ready to set the tempo, it would vindicate the gamble of leaving them out of the last group game, especially if the game went into extra-time.

Reports from the England camp indicate that the team has been practising penalties, meaning that Southgate does now want to be caught unawares if the matches went to penalty shoot out. That has been the bane of the Three Lions in major competitions.

They lost to Germany in the semifinals of the 1990 edition and also at Euro 1996 where Southgate as a player lost his own kick to send the hosts packing also in the semifinals.

Questions have been asked about Jordan Pickford’s quality as a national team goalkeeper, especially as he is still waiting for his first clean sheet in this competition.

In England’s starting line, the usual suspects, Kane, Raheem Sterling and the recuperated Dele Alli are expected to lead the line.

The team’s revelation of the tournament, Jesse Lingard and Henderson are expected to hold in the midfield together.

Colombia is expecting a thrilling battle with the Three Lions, with James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao, Juan Cuadrado, Juan Quintero and Luis Muri ready to test England’s backline of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire.

According to Colombia’s team reporter, Alejandra Rueda, the South Americans are hoping to repeat their achievement from the 2014 finals by reaching the last eight for a second time, and aim to do so by dominating possession and controlling the tempo of the game.

Whether or not they succeed will depend on their ability to find gaps in England’s defence, especially on the wings, as well as stifling the Three Lions’ rapid counter-attacks.

Colombia will also aim to avenge their 1998 0-2 defeat by the David Beckham-led England in France.

The match starts by 9.00 p.m. Russian time, which is 7.00 p.m. in Nigeria.




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