June 17, 2018 / 2:22 PM / a month ago

Colombia can go further than last eight, says Muriel

KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - Colombia striker Luis Muriel believes his team have the talent to go further in the World Cup in Russia than the side of four years ago who reached the quarter-finals in Brazil.

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup - Colombia Training - Nemesio Camacho El Campin Stadium, Bogota, Colombia - May 24, 2018 Colombia's national soccer coach Jose Pekerman (R) talks to Luis Muriel. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

The South Americans open their Group H campaign against Japan in Saransk on Tuesday after making their final preparations at a picturesque ski resort overlooking the Volga River.

“To have a very good World Cup compared with the one in Brazil, the ideal would be to go further than we did, and I believe this team has the ability to do that,” the 27-year-old told reporters on Sunday.

“Of course, our mantra to start off is to go game-by-game and not look further than what’s in front of us, because otherwise we would lose our essence and what we are.

“We need to think first about Japan and then about what happens later. That’s key to achieving what we want. First look at the game ahead and then what’s coming later.”

Colombia achieved their best World Cup performance in Brazil, beating Japan 4-1 on their way to the last eight with a swashbuckling brand of football that made them one of the most popular teams in the tournament.

James Rodriguez was at the heart of that style and the attacking midfielder trained again on Sunday after missing a session last week with what was officially described as muscle fatigue.

Jose Pekerman’s squad are determined not to be lulled into complacency by the thrashing of Japan four years ago and Muriel had clearly been doing his homework on the Blue Samurai.

“I think Japan’s main strength, like any Asian team, is the speed of their transition, they can go quickly from defence to attack and attack to defence,” he added.

“So we need to try to block that with fast plays when we can counter-attack and find space. And in defence we should try to adjust quickly if we lose the ball or if they’re attacking.

“When they transition quickly, if you’re in the wrong spot, they can hurt you a lot. Being concentrated and organised in the pitch will be fundamental.”

Muriel, who was one of the last players cut from the squad in 2014, scored Colombia’s opener in their 3-2 friendly win over France in March and is hoping to get the call to play alongside his captain Falcao in the heart of the attack.

“I have that advantage, so to speak, of being able to cover any position in attack,” he said. “But I feel most comfortable accompanying the number nine up front ...”

Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, editing by Ed Osmond

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