ST PETERSBURG – After their World Cup debut ended in defeat by Japan, James Rodriguez is set to return to Colombia's starting line-up against Poland in a crucial Group H game on Sunday, when he will face Bayern Munich team-mate Robert Lewandowski.
The Colombian playmaker suffered a calf injury which saw coach Jose Pekerman only use him as a substitute in their 2-1 defeat on Tuesday. But the team's survival in the tournament is dependent on a positive result in Kazan.
Poland were beaten by the same score when they faced Senegal and are also battling to stay at the World Cup. Defeat for either team would see them unable to reach the next round if Japan draw with Senegal in the other match.
Pekerman brought James on with the score tied at 1-1 against Japan and the player who shot to fame at the 2014 World Cup, where he finished as top scorer, missed a good chance to score, fractionally too slow to strike from close range.
However after training, James is expected to start in a do-or-die battle.
"We know how good James is, but we treat Colombia as a whole team, even if they have such a great player," said Poland's assistant coach Hubert Malowiejski.
"The key point is not to let him play brilliantly. It is one of the most important tasks for our team."
James is the stand-out star in the Cafeteros side, with the other big name Radamel Falcao no longer at the peak of his powers. The forward, 32, worked hard against Japan but got short shrift, especially as his team played virtually the whole game with 10 men after Carlos Sanchez's red card in the third minute.
The midfielder's handball saw him receive the first red card of this World Cup and the second-fastest in the tournament's history, leaving his team-mates an uphill struggle.
"This team has shown it is mentally strong," said Falcao.
"It will be like a final. Each team will battle hard to keep the ball, and will close down the space for their opponents to operate in.
"Perhaps we won't make as many mistakes as we did before, because we all know this is a match that will determine who will continue in the World Cup."
Like Colombia, Poland have a team which is also based around one star, James's Bayern team-mate Lewandowski. The forward has 21 goals in his last 16 appearances but failed to find the net against Senegal as Poland were brushed aside by the Africans. Lewandowski drew criticism for his performance from the father of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who said he "was probably not even on the pitch in the first half."
"We've played our way into this and now we need to turn things around, fight and progress," said Lewandowski.
Whichever of the two stars finds their feet quicker in Kazan could dictate the game, who progresses and who goes home.AFP