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James Rodriguez sends Robert Lewandowski and Poland home

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Colombia left Poland little chance in a 3-0 shutout game. James also gave Lewandowski little chance to commend himself to potential suitors, as he leaves yet another major tournament goalless.

Poland v Colombia: Group H - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Robert Lewandowski would surely have preferred to have his Bayern Munich teammate, James Rodriguez, supporting him today rather than having to play against the Colombian playmaker, as Poland and Colombia faced each other in what amounted to a knockout match in Group H of the 2018 World Cup.

Since Colombia and Poland lost their opening matches, while Japan and Senegal enjoyed 4 points each, the loser of the match would be eliminated. Both Bayern players gave their all, but in the end it was Colombia’s collective superiority, and James’s own inspired play-making performance, that eliminated Poland with a game left to play.

James’s breathtaking assists

James was able to start for Colombia for the first time after recovering from a calf issue that kept him on the bench for Colombia’s first match until it was too late. The difference for the Colombians with James healthy and playing at his best was night and day.

The scoring opened late in the first half. Colombia took a short corner and Juan Fernando Quintero passed to James. With one touch, James served a perfect assist to center-back Yerry Mina. Colombia took a 1-0 lead.

Poland attempted to respond, but their offense just could not deliver the ball to Lewandowski in a position where he could genuinely pose a scoring threat. One of the best chances for him came off a long throw-in by Lukasz Piszczek, but Lewandowski was unable to head the ball on target.

Poland attempted a few more hopeful shots in the second half, but the game was already essentially out of reach after Radamel Falcao scored Colombia’s second goal off an assist by Juan Cuadrado.

James then sealed Poland’s fate with an utterly astounding pass to Cuadrado. It has to be seen to be believed. James put spin on the ball so that his long-range pass circled gracefully around two Polish defenders to arrive at the feet of Cuadrado, who stormed forward and scored past Wojchiech Szczesny:

Lewandowski headed home; James perhaps to the knockout round

For Robert Lewandowski and Poland, the World Cup will soon be at an end. They must play Japan on Thursday (June 28) while Colombia face Senegal. If Colombia can defeat Senegal, they will jump ahead of them and advance with Japan.

Matters are more complicated if Colombia and Senegal end with a tie. In that scenario, James will need his Bayern teammate Lewandowski to finish his World Cup on a high note and defeat Japan, because that is what it would take for Colombia to advance on goal differential alongside Senegal to the knockout round.

Poland v Colombia: Group H - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Lewandowski: “It’s not like we lost by a whisker”

Robert Lewandowski acknowledged that Poland simply lacked the quality to survive the World Cup (ESPN).

Maybe that’s all we could do. Let’s be frank, it’s not like we lost by a whisker. So we fought, we tried to do our best, but at the moment we could not do anything more,

Many things did not go as they should today, during this World Cup... I was alone, we fought, I fought, I did everything I could, but fighting is not enough to win World Cup matches, you also have to have quality, and we had too little of that.

It is a disappointing end to a dominant qualifying run, in which Lewandowski scored a record 16 goals. The answer to whether he could continue his goal-scoring form at the World Cup proved to be a resounding “no.”

Lewandowski’s support against quality opponents at the World Cup proved to be completely outmatched. The Polish midfielders were unable to deliver controllable passes and instead relied almost exclusively on long balls and set pieces. (Piszczek’s Icelandic-style throw-in highlighted above is essentially that.)

The disappointing performance stings all the till more so since a strong showing could have bolstered Lewandowski’s attractiveness to potential suitors. The Polish striker has been pursuing a “new challenge” at a new club for some time, but yet another major competition without a goal — in addition to Bayern Munich’s determination to keep him — makes it very likely that Lewandowski will remain at Säbener Straße for the foreseeable future.

At least then he will have James playing at his side, rather than against him.