James could return to play for Colombia against England

Colombia’s James Rodriguez, left, walks past Colombia head coach Jose Pekerman, right, as he leaves the pitch during the group H match between Senegal and Colombia, at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena in Samara, Russia, Thursday, June 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

MOSCOW — James Rodriguez “doesn’t have a serious injury,” and that is good news for Colombia.

The attacking midfielder, who was substituted with a calf muscle problem during last week’s 1-0 victory over Senegal, has undergone medical scans and could play Tuesday against England in the round of 16 at the World Cup.

“After his MRI we knew that he doesn’t have a serious injury,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said Monday. “So we still have one and a half days to see how he feels.”

If Rodriguez can’t play, Pekerman said forward Luis Muriel will step in — as he did against Senegal.

“He’s able to change the pace. He’s technically gifted. He’s really fast and can play well with teammates,” Pekerman said of the Sevilla forward. “He brings many skills to the pitch so of course we take him into account and we think he will be able to co-ordinate well if he has to play.”

The team has previously said a swelling was found in Rodriguez’s calf muscle.

While England was able to rest eight players for its last group game against Belgium, Colombia had to fight to the last minute to get past Senegal after losing its opening match to Japan. That gives the team the momentum England lacks, Pekerman said.

“This gives us an important opportunity because we have played very tough, decisive matches until now,” Pekerman said. “This has made us stronger, more confident and we believe more in ourselves. We’re very self-confident and that will compensate the fact the other team has been able to rest more.”

Pekerman also said this year’s World Cup has shown the resurgence of centre back Yerry Mina, who managed only six appearances for Barcelona last season. Mina scored twice in three games for Colombia in the group stage, including the goal which beat Senegal and secured advancement.

The coach said Mina is back in the kind of form he showed in South America before moving to Spain.

“He is the Yerry we know from Colombia, Brazil and the national team,” Pekerman said. “I think he can do great things wherever he plays, and with the national team even more.”

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