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Colombia secured a spot in the knockout stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a 1-0 win over Senegal on Thursday. Yerry Mina scored the only goal in the match.
Both teams were still vying for one of the two top spots in Group H, but Senegal entered the day with a one-point advantage over the CONMEBOL side. Colombia’s talent won out in the end, however.
Senegal finished level with Japan on points in their group, missing out on the knockout stages due to having more bookings.
Here are the key takeaways from Thursday’s match.
Colombia Need a Healthy Rodriguez in Knockout Stages
Colombia’s creativity is often directly linked to their star midfielder James Rodriguez, who was the standout performer at the 2014 World Cup.
The CONMEBOL side lost him to injury early on Thursday, which was a bitter pill to swallow:
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30 min: A huge blow for #COL…
Star man James Rodriguez trudges off with a suspected injury. He's replaced by Luis Muriel. #SENCOL https://t.co/yUfBS8SddQ
Colombia didn’t look the same after he went off, resorting to the pace of Juan Cuadrado out wide to make something happen. Luis Muriel, Rodriguez’s replacement in the match, is a solid talent, but he’s a striker rather than a creative force―he won’t do much to get the ball to the team’s ace scorer Radamel Falcao.
Rodriguez hasn’t been at 100 per cent at any point in the tournament, but in the win over Poland, he was healthy enough to shine. Colombia desperately need that version of the Bayern Munich man to have any chance in the knockout stages.
Senegal Need to Turn Pace into Scoring Efficiency
With Sadio Mane, Keita Balde and M’Baye Niang teaming up in attack, Senegal entered the tournament with arguably the fastest strike force in the tournament.
The former is an established star for Liverpool, while the latter two are emerging talents with a huge margin for growth. Both have struggled with their efficiency in front of goal, however, and things were no different in Russia. For all of the difficulties they put defences in, goals did not come easy, and it ultimately cost them.
Senegal have the potential to be the dominant force of African football for years to come, but those two talents will have to work on their finishing to get there.
Sigh of Relief for England or Belgium
One of England or Belgium will play the runner-up of Group H, and while Japan are fully deserving of their spot in the next round and shouldn’t be overlooked, the Red Devils in particular would much rather face the Samurai Blue than Senegal.
That devastating speed out wide would have been a nightmare matchup for Belgium’s 3-4-3 formation, which features Yannick Carrasco―a natural winger―at left-wing-back.
Coupled with the lack of speed among Belgium’s central defence, Senegal would have had all kinds of options on the counter. England will also be glad to avoid the Senegalese if it means taking on Japan and their passing-based style of play that is a poor matchup for England’s ability in space.
There’s no guarantee either side beats Japan in the round of 16, but the Samurai Blue should present them with fewer issues than Senegal would have.
Japan will face the winner of Group G on Monday. Colombia will play the runner-up of that group a day later.