Colombia will begin their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign against Japan on Tuesday; THT looks at three players who could play a major role in the clash.

Group H of the FIFA World Cup 2018 will be kicked off with one of the most enticing fixtures one could hope for, as South American giants Colombia go head to head against their Japan on Tuesday afternoon.

Both the sides will have a point to prove following rather disappointing performances in the friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Colombia, in particular, have had a tough time in their qualifying campaign but will look to eclipse their quarterfinal finish in Brazil four years ago.

Japan, on the other hand, have so far alternated between a group stage exit and reaching the knockout rounds in each World Cup finals and will be hoping that the streak continues, having been eliminated without winning a game in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

It could be a highly entertaining affair, given the quality attackers that both the sides have in long supply. And ahead of the match, here at the Hard Tackle, we take a look at three players who could prove to be the difference maker on the day.

Davinson Sanchez

Cool, calm and collected is what Colombia will need Davinson to be. (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)

Cool, calm and collected is what Colombia will need Davinson to be. (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

It will be interesting to see as to how Davinson Sanchez performs in his first competitive international tournament. The former Ajax prodigy, who made a big money move to Tottenham last summer, is highly lauded as the face of the Colombian defence for many years to come. His presence in the heart of the Colombian defence will be key as Los Cafeteros seek to kick-off their campaign on a positive note.

Since his move to England, the youngster has made quite a name for himself in the Premier League. Especially after the absence of star player Toby Alderweireld, Sanchez has emerged as an excellent back-up for the Belgian, who is linked with a move to Manchester United this summer. His incredible performances alongside Jan Vertonghen in the second half of the campaign helped Spurs finish third in the table. The 22-year-old will be an assured started for the Lilywhites next season.

On Tuesday, Davinson Sanchez will likely start alongside another defensive prodigy in Yerry Mina. His positional sense coupled with his ball-playing ability will surely hand Colombia an advantage in their build-up game. But having said that, Sanchez’s defensive skill will be put under the microscope against a lethal Japan attack comprising of seasoned stars such as Shinji Okazaki, Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda amongst many others.

Yoshinori Muto

The wildcard. (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)

The wildcard. (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

Although not a likely starter for Japan for Tuesday’s fixture, Yoshinori Muto will definitely be a player to watch in this World Cup.

The 25-year-old, since his move to Germany three years ago, has already earned himself quite a reputation for his scoring prowess. Yoshinori Muto has been a consistent performer for Mainz, despite suffering from injuries for a fair chunk of his stint with the Carnival outfit. He has already netted 23 goals in 77 Bundesliga matches and was a vital figure for Mainz last season, scoring eight goals in 27 matches – his most productive season in the German top flight.

Although a tally of only eight goals might seem rather average for a striker these days, Muto netted the winner against Dortmund back in May whilst also netting one in a 3:1 win against Bayer Leverkusen earlier last season, clearly referring to the fact that the 25-year-old has a knack of scoring in important matches. Thus, he will remain as a key member for Japan on the bench. Expect Muto to be introduced around the hour mark.

James Rodriguez 

Colombian fans would be hoping the Rodriguez of 2014 turns up in Russia. (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)

Colombian fans would be hoping the Rodriguez of 2014 turns up in Russia. (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

One of the most talked about players in the lead-up to this year’s FIFA World Cup, James Rodriguez will definitely be a key man in this fixture. Tasked with the responsibility of carrying his nation’s hope on his shoulders, the Bayern Munich attacker is ready to stun the footballing world once again.

James Rodriguez was one of the best players in the Bundesliga last season, scoring seven goals. He created the most chances in the league last term and also chipped in with 11 assists, helping Bayern win their sixth consecutive Bundesliga titles. Aside from his impressive record in the club level, James’s six goals and four assists in the qualifying stage made sure Colombia clear their rather bumpy road to qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2018.

Having said that, James, is, however, a doubt going into this fixture due to fatigue. The Colombian superstar didn’t take part in the team’s training session on Friday but fans will expect him to be included in the starting eleven against Japan nonetheless.

Expect him to be deployed in the central attacking midfield position with Juan Cuadrado and Mateus Uribe on either side. His ability to carve out the opposition defence will be quintessential for Colombia as they aim to oust Japan in their opening fixture.

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