Colombia's Rodriguez not confirmed for World Cup opener
SARANSK, Russia (AP) — The top scorer of the 2014 World Cup is not guaranteed to play in Colombia's opening match against Japan.
James Rodriguez is recovering from a left calf injury and coach Jose Pekerman would not confirm if Colombia's star midfielder will even be on the bench for Tuesday's game.
"We will wait for a final review on James," Pekerman said Monday, indicating his lineup won't be decided until the last minute.
"We reached the last day of preparations with a high chance of having all the squad. But I do not rule out that in the last few hours we have some review to be sure."
Pekerman said he's waiting to set the lineup because "circumstances that can change the team in many ways, and we need to be careful." Media could only observe Colombian players during fitness training at Mordovia Arena.
Rodriguez scored six goals in five matches in Brazil to earn a starring role on soccer's global stage while leading Colombia to the quarterfinals. His scoring tally included a goal in Colombia's 4-1 victory over Japan in group stage.
Rodriguez didn't have as much success following the World Cup. He had three disappointing seasons at Real Madrid and the team eventually loaned him to rival Bayern Munich.
Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina said the team will be trying to play as a unit against Japan and no one player, including Rodriguez, should be the focus.
"Every team has great players, the most important thing for us is to work well collectively," Ospina said.
Pekerman believes this year's national team is more balanced than the 2014 squad, but noted he's added younger players that could be rattled in their World Cup debut. Still, the goal is to at least reach the quarterfinals again.
"We want to do as well or better, but we have to focus on each match," Pekerman said. "That team grew during the competition."