After missing out on the World Cup four years ago because of an injury, Radamel Falcao is now in danger of being out of title contention after only two matches at the sport's marquee tournament.
Colombia's all-time leading scorer and his teammates are taking on Poland's all-time leading scorer, Robert Lewandowski, and his teammates in a tense contest on Sunday. Both teams know a defeat would likely end their hopes of advancing to the knockout round.
Both teams were disappointing in their opening games. Colombia, down to 10 men, was upset 2-1 by Japan and Poland lost to Senegal by the same score in Group H.
"It will be like a final. Each team will battle hard to keep the ball, and will close down the space for their opponents to operate in," Falcao said. "Perhaps we won't make as many mistakes as we did before, because we all know this is a match that will determine who will continue in the World Cup."
Back in 2014, Falcao was ruled out of what was expected to be his first World Cup after injuring his knee. Being forced to watch his countrymen reach the quarterfinals without him was heartbreaking for the Monaco striker, who did everything this season to arrive in Russia in peak physical form.
Falcao was a big asset for Monaco this season, scoring 24 goals in 36 matches, but he also sat out several matches to make sure a minor thigh problem did not become more serious.
The 32-year-old forward's aim to lead the Cafeteros to a great start got off to a bad start. Colombia conceded a penalty and was a man down within three minutes after Carlos Sanchez received a red card.
Falcao subsequently found himself isolated up front, and had limited opportunities.
"We are taking from that match what makes us stronger," Falcao said. "It was not easy to play in these conditions. And, overall in the first half, we showed character and ambition. I think the simple fact of still being alive in the World Cup gives us the emotional drive for our two remaining matches."
Like Falcao, Poland's top striker Lewandowski arrived in Russia with a point to prove following his mediocre display at the 2016 Euros. In excellent striking form with Bayern Munich — he scored 41 goals in 48 matches — Lewandowski started his preparations for the World Cup earlier than for the European championship in a bid to arrive fresher. Poland was let down by its defense in the opener against Senegal.
"I think we didn't take enough risks," the imposing forward said. "Above all, we didn't live up to our potential. Against Colombia ... We will play differently and better than today."
JAMES RODRIGUEZ TO START?
In addition to Falcao, Colombia coach Jose Pekerman hopes he can also count on playmaker James Rodriguez to create opportunites against Poland. Rodriguez, the top scorer at the Brazil World Cup, did not start against Japan because of a calf muscle injury, coming in as a second-half substitute.
Poland missed key defender Kamil Glik against Senegal but the bulky Monaco center-back is expected to start his World Cup campaign against Colombia.
Glik, formerly Torino's captain, was ruled out of Poland's first match after injuring his shoulder at practice but has now been declared fit.