Radamel Falcao scored his first World Cup goal as Colombia got their tournament in Russia up and running with an impressive victory that ended a lacklustre Poland side’s hopes of reaching the last 16.
Yerry Mina nodded in James Rodriguez’s cross shortly before half-time to put the South Americans ahead.
Falcao, who missed the finals four years ago with injury, then broke through in the second half before driving a low strike into the far corner and Juan Cuadrado capped off a fine team performance with an accomplished finish after racing on to James’ sublime ball behind the Poland defence.
It was a much improved performance by Colombia following the disappointing 2-1 defeat by Japan in their Group H opener and will give their fans hope they can at least match their run to the quarter-finals in 2014.
In contrast, this was another disappointing display by Poland, who lost to Senegal in their group opener.
Robert Lewandowski, making his World Cup debut in Russia, struggled with a lack of service throughout, the Bayern Munich striker going closest in the final few minutes when a long-range effort was tipped over by David Ospina.
Poland cannot now catch either Japan or Senegal, who have four points from two games. Colombia have three points and play Senegal on Thursday knowing victory could secure top spot.
James return sparks Colombia revival
It was four years ago to the day that Colombia thrashed Japan 4-1 to finish top of their group at the 2014 World Cup – a result that made many observers stand up and take notice of the South Americans as contenders.
They went on to reach the last eight in Brazil, with James scoring six goals to claim the Golden Boot, and in this victory both the team and the player were back to their best after some underwhelming performances over the course of the past four years.
Injury denied the Bayern Munich star a place in the first XI as Colombia lost their opening group game in Russia 2-1 to Japan but he returned to the starting line-up against Poland and provided the creativity his side so badly lacked in their previous outing.
He had the vision and technique to unlock a stubborn Poland defence just as a first half light on chances looked set to end goalless, clipping a pinpoint cross to Mina, who headed in from close range.
But his pass for Colombia’s third was even better, taking out three defenders to find Cuadrado with a whipped pass from the left wing, allowing the former Chelsea forward to charge unchallenged into the Poland box before finishing neatly.
With six goals and four assists in his previous seven appearances for Colombia, James has been involved in more goals than any other player across the past two World Cups. If Colombia are to go far at a finals again then the 26-year-old maintaining this kind of form will be key.
Lewandowski fails to shine on World Cup debut
Russia 2018 is Poland’s first World Cup finals appearance in 12 years, but rather than grasping the opportunity and making their mark, they went out with a whimper.
Lewandowski scored an incredible 16 goals during qualifying – one more than Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo – but he was unable to carry that form into the tournament.
A change in formation may have contributed to that. Having frequently played 4-4-2 in qualifying Poland lined up 3-4-3 against Colombia and it was clearly a formation in which Lewandowski did not feel comfortable. He often found himself isolated and having to drop back into midfield to help build attacks.
At 29, this may have been the Bayern Munich striker’s last chance to make his mark at a World Cup.
Man of the match – James Rodriguez
‘Falcao is a symbol of Colombian football’
Colombia boss Jose Pekerman said: “I think [Falcao’s goal] is one of the greatest joys that we received tonight. He is a symbol of the national team, a symbol of Colombian football.
“We always hope that he can score and he can be fit as he was in the match today. We want to help him as a team so that he can show all his skill and shine. And I think the fact that today he scored was extremely important not only for today’s match but for future matches.
“We were playing with the pressure of having to win. Both teams had just lost so there was no room for mistakes. We shouldered that responsibility fully but with a beautiful game and creative football. Now we have a good position in this World Cup.”
Poland coach Adam Nawalka said: “I think that our players really played their best until the very end of the game but we lost against a very strong team and this is what we have to accept.
“My opinion tonight: the match was pretty level until we conceded the first goal. Then we changed our system to a more offensive one and I’m very sorry and sad that we lost.
“Tomorrow is another day.”
A first since 1990 – the stats
- Poland are the first European nation to be eliminated from the 2018 World Cup.
- Colombia have won three of their past five World Cup meetings with European sides (W3 D0 L2), having won none of their first five against Uefa nations (W0 D2 L3).
- Colombia’s victory means there has still been no goalless draw after 32 matches so far at the 2018 World Cup, the longest wait from the start of a tournament without one (no 0-0s in 26 games in the entire 1954 tournament).
- Three of Yerry Mina’s four goals for Colombia have been headers.
- James Rodriguez has had a hand in 10 goals in seven World Cup appearances (6 goals, 4 assists).
- Juan Cuadrado has been involved in six goals in seven World Cup appearances for Colombia (2 goals, 4 assists). He scored his second World Cup goal on Sunday, exactly four years after netting his first (24 June 2014 vs Japan).
- Radamel Falcao scored his 30th goal for Colombia and first at a World Cup. He is Colombia’s all-time highest goalscorer.
- Including Colombia’s victory against Poland, there were 14 World Cup goals scored today – the most on a single day of action in the competition (maximum 3 games) since 10 June 1990 (also 14).
Colombia play Senegal in Samara in their final Group H game on Thursday (15:00 BST) while Poland end their World Cup campaign against Japan at the same time.