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Rodriguez may miss World Cup opener against Japan


Colombia’s midfielder James Rodriguez takes part in a training session in Kazan on June 17, 2018, ahead of their Russia 2018 World Cup Group H football match against Japan. LUIS ACOSTA / AFP

Colombia talisman James Rodriguez, the sensation of the last World Cup, is a doubtful starter for today’s Group H opener against Japan in Saransk.Rodriguez, the top scorer in Brazil 2014 with six goals in five matches, missed a training session in Kazan on Friday due to muscle fatigue. His left calf has reportedly been troubling him.

The 26-year-old trained at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk today but his state of fitness was still unclear.“We are waiting to see what the doctors will say after the last check,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman told a news conference.

Great expectations have been placed on Rodriguez as the spearhead of the best generation of Colombian players since the 1990s. He won over many neutral fans in Brazil for his spectacular style – and his salsa-dance goal celebrations.

But his club performances since 2014 have been inconsistent and he is currently on loan to Bayern Munich from Real Madrid.Pekerman insisted several other players could step up to the mark should Rodriguez not take the field today.

“We always wait until the very last minute before we decide,” Pekerman said.“World Cups are played after a very heavy season. It is true some players arrived here in Russia not feeling very comfortable. They have all improved very much, even if some of them are a little tired.”

One ace up his sleeve is striker Radamel Falcao, Colombia’s all-time top scorer. “El Tigre” is raring to make his World Cup debut, having missed the 2014 tournament through injury.

Pekerman mentioned Jose Izquierdo, Juan Quintero and Mateus Uribe as potential matchwinners.“We have enough players for all alternatives,” he said. “Our team is much richer, much stronger (than in 2014). We’ve got much more flexibility.”

If Rodriguez’s absence would disappoint Colombia’s legions of fans, it would be a relief to Japan coach Akira Nishino.Colombia walloped Japan 4-1 in the group stage in 2014 on their way to the quarterfinals, with Rodriguez among the scorers.“He is almost like a symbol of the Colombia team, a points-getter, a mood-maker,” Nishino said. “It is difficult to mark him. Who is going to mark him? The whole of the team. We cannot give him time or room….he is everywhere on the pitch.”

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