Colombia attracted plaudits from all observers with their performances in the group stages. After suffering a shock defeat to Japan in their opener, they recovered to destroy Poland 3-0 in a glorious display of attacking verve, before holding their nerve to edge past Senegal in the final game to qualify as winners of Group H.
It was that Poland game which will live long in the memory, with James Rodriguez pulling the strings in midfield and setting up the first with a delightful chip, Falcao scoring with a sublime finish, and Juan Cuadrado capping the display with a fine counter-attack goal.
With England finishing runners-up in their group, they faced one of the toughest second round games, with everyone wary of Colombia’s free-flowing attacking power.
However, that wasn’t what transpired, with Colombia, shorn of Rodriguez through injury, deciding to resort to nefarious tactics: namely, to rough up, provoke and niggle England at every opportunity, whilst getting in the referee’s face all night.
Their behaviour, even to the neutral observer, was shocking, with Wilmar Barrios clearly deserving of a red card for headbutting Jordan Henderson and their players scuffing up the penalty spot and delaying the taking of Harry Kane’s penalty by more than three minutes by arguing over its award, despite the fact that it was clearly the correct call.
Now, England weren’t blameless either, with Henderson going down after his altercation when he probably didn’t need to, while Harry Maguire dived in the opposing penalty area - albeit he immediately signalled that he had not been touched.
However, the Colombians went down at the slightest touch and constantly fouled England players - racking up 23 fouls to England’s 13 and picking up six bookings to England’s two (and it could easily have been more with a less patient referee) whilst coach Eduardo Julio Urtasun deliberately barged into England’s Raheem Sterling as he walked off for half time. Mercifully, Sterling had the composure not to react.
However, he has revealed that there was even more going on than these events.
Sterling described how Urtasun repeatedly tried to talk to him and put him off every time he went to the touchline.
“There were a couple of times when I went over for a drinks break and he kept saying something,” Sterling said.
“Obviously I don’t speak Spanish so I didn’t understand but then there was half-time too. I just remember running in and someone stepped in front of me. I just kind of looked back at him.”
He also described a moment in the first half when Colombia’s Yerry Mina fouled him by jumping on his back.
“I just remember him [Mina] turning and I felt him on my back and I just thought, ‘Look at my strength!’” he said.
Then it went even further: “There was one of their guys who had a hold of my ribs. I don’t know how that was even possible but he had hold of my ribs.”
However, Sterling revealed that the team had been prepared for what was coming their way.
“We knew their game plan and exactly what they were trying to do. We knew what would get thrown at us and that was kind of silly from him [Urtasun]. We just kept going, blacked that out and focused on the football. They’re a physical team. They were trying to do everything they could to get into our heads but we kept cool heads and that’s the most important thing.”
Let’s hope England keep their heads again in their quarter-final clash with Sweden on Saturday.
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