June 17, 2018 / 3:31 PM / 3 months ago

Revved up Colombia look to squash Japan in opening game

(Reuters) - Boosted by 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez and top scorer Radamel Falcao, a confident Colombia will be looking to demolish low-ranked Japan on Tuesday before moving on to tougher Group H rivals Poland and Senegal.

FILE PHOTO - Soccer Football - Farewell Soccer Match - Colombia national team - Nemesio Camacho El Campin, Bogota, Colombia May 25, 2018. Colombia's player James Rodriguez (C) warms up with other teammates before the farewell ahead of the upcoming FIFA World Cup Russia 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero

The Andean nation is ranked 16th to Japan’s 61st, and history is on their side too - Colombia beat the “Blue Samurais” 4-1 in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup.

“We’re going to conquer Russia,” Falcao posted on Instagram recently alongside a picture of the South Americans decked out in ties on their plane to Russia.

Yellow-shirted Colombia definitely conquered fans in Brazil four years ago with scintillating counter-attacking style and salsa-infused goal celebrations which propelled them to quarter-finals, their best result ever.

But they went on to have an uninspiring World Cup qualifying campaign for Russia. They scored just 21 goals during the grueling two-year, 18-match South American qualifiers and limped over the line with three points from their last four games to claim fourth spot.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Japan Training - Japan Training Camp, Kazan, Russia - June 17, 2018 Japan coach Akira Nishino during training REUTERS/John Sibley

The squad led by Argentine coach Jose Pekerman are vowing to boost their attacking prowess in the hard-to-call Group H and prove that their run in Brazil was not just a one-off.

“We have to take the initiative. We’re a team that’s characterized itself for that. We need to have confidence to go up front. But we also can’t lose defensive strength,” midfielder Abel Aguilar said on Friday.

Fresh from losing several friendly matches since qualifying for the World Cup, Japan is nervous at the prospect of facing AS Monaco’s Falcao and Rodriguez — on loan from Real Madrid at Bayern Munich.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Japan head coach Akira Nishino, a former international midfielder who took over in April, said last month that beating Colombia would be a “small miracle.”

Nishino has named an experienced World Cup team - including three players with more than 100 caps — Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Okazaki and captain Makoto Hasebe.

“The quality of the Colombian team has gone up, and they have height and athleticism,” said Fortuna Duesseldorf’s Takashi Usami this month. “We have to adjust the quality of our ball delivery and the recipient’s timing to meet the ball.”

Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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