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Colombia aiming for best-ever World Cup


(L-R) Colombia’s midfielder Juan Quintero, Colombia’s midfielder James Rodriguez, Colombia’s forward Carlos Bacca and Colombia’s midfielder Abel Aguilar take part in a training session in Kazan on June 17, 2018, ahead of their Russia 2018 World Cup Group H football match against Japan.<br />/ AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTA

Colombia will not take struggling Asian giants Japan for granted when the two sides meet in their World Cup opener in Saransk, Seville striker Luis Muriel said Sunday.

“Los Cafeteros” are aiming to top their run to the quarter-finals in Brazil four years ago with a talented side rich with the attacking talents of captain Radamel Falcao, Bayern Munich star James Rodriguez and Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado.

Japan are under huge pressure to perform after a string of underwhelming displays in the weeks leading up to the tournament, during which unpopular Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic was replaced by Akira Nishino.


The “Blue Samurai” will also be mindful of their 4-1 trouncing to Colombia four years ago, which capped a winless group campaign and sent Jose Pekerman’s men on their way to the last eight — their best-ever performance at a World Cup.

Colombia are widely tipped for a repeat performance at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk, but Muriel says nothing will be taken for granted.

“First of all, Colombia won’t underestimate any of our rivals because that would be a big mistake,” Muriel told reporters in Kazan.

“Concentration is fundamental if we are to stay on track and maintain confidence in our plan for the tournament.

“Japan are good passers of the ball and they are quick at transforming from defence to attack and vice versa. We have to counter this by playing quickly and regrouping in defence when we lose possession. ”

Bayern star James, who won the Golden Boot in Brazil, gave fans cause for concern earlier this week after he was reduced to gym work due to muscle fatigue in his right calf.

But he is tipped to be ready for Colombia’s opener and Muriel believes the South Americans can better their showing in Brazil.

“A successful World Cup for us would be surpassing what we achieved in Brazil. We want to go much further because this squad has what it takes,” said the 27-year-old, hoping to make his World Cup debut.

“But we’ll be taking it match by match. We can’t afford to look any further ahead because we would lose the essence of what we are.

“We’re focusing only on Japan and then we’ll think about what comes next.”

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