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Pekerman gives James hint ahead of crucial Poland clash

Kazan Arena (Russia) (AFP) – Coach Jose Pekerman hinted James Rodriguez could start in a must-win clash against Poland Sunday when Colombia will need to “score quickly” to increase their chances of World Cup survival.

A troublesome calf injury has meant James, the star of Brazil 2014, was restricted to a late substitute’s appearance when 10-man Colombia suffered a shock, 2-1 opening defeat to Japan last week.

Four years after his tournament-topping six-goal tally steered the south Americans to a historic quarter-final finish in Brazil, Colombia can ill afford to be without the Bayern Munich star as they look for a crucial first win in Group H.

Refusing to divulge any news about his starting line-up, Argentine Pekerman would not confirm whether James would start.

But he gave fans of ‘Los Cafeteros’ (Coffee Makers) hope when he said: “He’s doing very well, that’s what we’ve seen in the training sessions this week.

“His appearance off the bench last time out gave him some confidence. We’ve had to finetune a few little details, but he’s been working hard in recent days and we’re hoping he’ll be 100 percent.”

If included, it would help spark a Colombia attack spearheaded by Monaco star Radamel Falcao, but which has so far failed to impress after being forced to play with 10 men against Japan after Carlos Sanchez saw red for handball after just three minutes.

Having battled in vain with 10 men, Pekerman underlined the importance of competing on a level field on Sunday.

“Firstly, we need 11 players against 11, that’s the priority,” he said.

But with few teams at this World Cup managing to win a game after conceding a goal, the 68-year-old coach said whoever scores first would have a distinct advantage.

“One single goal can be decisive. We’ve seen here so far that the teams who score first get a quick advantage.”

The first time a team has overcome conceding a goal at the tournament came in Switzerland’s 2-1 defeat of Serbia on Friday.

Pekerman added: “Look at Switzerland v Serbia. It was very intense and in the end the Swiss were able to overturn the match.

“But in most matches in Russia most teams that score first are able to determine the pace and rhythm of the game.

Facing a “physical and strong” Poland side that will be desperate for three points following a 2-1 defeat to Senegal, Colombia are expected to pay special attention to Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

Defender Santiago Arias underlined the “aerial threat” from Poland but said “man-marking” could be key.

“I think we have plenty of players to counteract Poland,” said the PSV Eindhoven defender. “We have to mark him (Lewandowski) man to man.”

Pekerman added: “I’d like to stress that Poland are a very good team, very solid and physically robust, and with good experience.

“We can’t place too much importance on the fact they lost their opening match. But we can say the same thing about us.”

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