James Rodriguez assisted on two of Colombia’s three goals as Los Cafeteros grabbed control of their own destiny in Group H of the World Cup with a 3-0 rout of Poland on Sunday in Kazan.
Rodriguez set up goals by Yerry Mina and Juan Cuadrado on either side of a 70th-minute goal by Radamel Falcao as the South American side looked every bit the excitable squad that reached the quarterfinals in Brazil four years ago.
Colombia moved into third place on three points and will advance to the knockout round with a victory over Senegal on Thursday. Poland was mathematically eliminated from advancing with the loss, a disappointing result for a side tipped to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 1986.
Rodriguez, who is still dealing with a calf injury that limited him to a 30-minute stint in Colombia’s 2-1 loss to Japan in which it also played a man down for 87 minutes, was included in the starting XI by Jose Pekerman as the Cafeteros needed a result in their bid to return to the knockout round.
In a match that almost doubled as a home game for Colombia in Bogota with all the yellow shirts in the stands, Los Cafeteros made a rare appearance in their road blue kits. Pekerman had his team pressing and harrying Poland all over the pitch, though neither team was able to fashion scoring chances over the first 20 minutes.
Just before the half-hour, Poland defender Michal Pazdan flattened Rodriguez as he laid the ball off to Falcao. Colombia was trying to threaten on the left through Johan Mojica, while Poalnd was failing to find success in sending long balls to star striker Robert Lewandowski.
In the 32nd minute, Colombia midfielder Abel Aguilar was forced off with a right leg injury, forcing Pekerman to introduce Mateus Uribe. The Cafeteros were rising in control of the match shortly thereafter, with Cuadardo forcing Poland keeper Wojcecih Szczesny to play a cross out for a corner.
They piled on the pressure until their breakthrough in the 40th minute. Juan Quintero started the play with a pass to his right to Rodriguez in the penalty area after a short corner, and no one came to contest the Bayern Munich star as he first-timed a left-footed cross that Mina rose to meet without objection from the Poland defense from close range to open the scoring.
It was the only shot on target of the first half, but with Colombia garnering nearly 60 percent of the possession in the first half while running Poland ragged, it was a deserved 1-0 lead at intermission.
Los Cafeteros continued to boss the match, with Poland failing to generate anything from a spell of possession before Quintero had a shot from distance deflected wide in the 56th minute.
Lewandowski had a half-chance minutes later, but he was unable to fully control a ball sent over the top. The half-step he needed to control the pass allowed Colombia keeper David Ospina to come out and cut down the angle before absorbing the shot from the left side of the penalty area.
Falcao doubled the advantage in the 70th minute, latching onto a through ball by Quintero and beating Szczesny with a right-footed shot from 15 yards into the left corner for his 30th international goal. Colombia’s third came off a fast-forming counter five minutes later in which Rodriguez curled an inch-perfect pass from the left sideline in his own half across the middle of the pitch that Cuadardo ran onto in rhythm.
The Juventus attacking midfielder carried the ball through the final third with two touches and calmly slotted past Szczesny into the lower right corner for his eighth international goal. It also meant Rodriguez had either scored or assisted on 10 of Colombia’s last 13 goals at the World Cup.
Ospina preserved his clean sheet by stopping a shot from Grzegorz Krychowiak nine minutes from time, and tipping a blast from Lewandowski over the bar on 88 minutes.
The scoreline also marked that all 32 matches through the first two rounds of group play had at least one goal.