June 23, 2018 / 4:30 PM / 3 months ago

Pekerman hoping James will be fully fit for Polish clash

KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - Colombia coach Jose Pekerman is hoping to be able to call on a “100 percent” James Rodriguez for Sunday’s crunch World Cup Group H clash against Poland at the Kazan Arena.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Colombia Press Conference - Kazan Arena, Kazan, Russia - June 23, 2018 Colombia's Santiago Arias and coach Jose Pekerman during the press conference REUTERS/John Sibley

The attacking midfielder, who won the Golden Boot as top scorer at the last World Cup with six goals, has been struggling with a muscle injury and played the last 30 minutes of Colombia’s opening loss to Japan as a substitute.

Pekerman, who oversaw Colombia’s run to the quarter-finals in Brazil four years ago, resisted several attempts to get him to reveal his starting line-up but gave a heavy hint that Rodriguez would be in it.

“Definitely, James Rodriguez is a vital player for our national squad,” Pekerman told a news conference on Saturday.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Poland Press Conference - Kazan Arena, Kazan, Russia - June 23, 2018 Poland's Piotr Zielinski and Maciej Rybus during the press conference REUTERS/John Sibley

“James is doing very well in training and he played a number of minutes in the last match, which has given him some confidence. There were a number of things we had to fine tune and we really hope he will be in 100 percent form tomorrow.”

The Colombians suffered a hammer blow to their campaign when Carlos Sanchez was sent off after three minutes of their opener and Japan scored the subsequent penalty before going on to win 2-1.

Poland, the other team favoured to get out of the group, were similarly upset by Senegal in their first match and the two sides consequently have little room for error at the Kazan Arena.

Pekerman said it was vital Colombia did not once again concede an early goal.

“We’ve seen in this World Cup that it is not easy when you go behind,” he added.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Poland Press Conference - Kazan Arena, Kazan, Russia - June 23, 2018 Poland coach Adam Nawalka during the press conference REUTERS/John Sibley

“The Switzerland-Serbia match last night was a highly intense contest and that was the first time a team was able to come from a goal down and win.

“We’ve seem that the teams that get ahead on scoreboard have greater composure and can control the match. I think Sunday’s match will also be very intense and the very minor details will be determining factors.”

Pekerman said he could make a number of changes from the side that started against Japan but that all the players in his squad were well-prepared to play in whatever line-up or formation he decided to go with.

The Argentine said being down to 10 men for so much of their opener had ensured that Colombia were unable to show their best form but that Poland similarly should not be judged on their performance against Senegal.

“Poland also had some strange things happen too, so if you just look at the scoreboard you can get the wrong impression,” he said.

“We’re not doing that, we respect Poland.”

Editing by Ian Chadband

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