Radamel Falcao scored his first World Cup goal as Colombia revived their hopes of reaching the World Cup knockout phase with a 3-0 victory over Poland, who now cannot reach the last 16.
Monaco striker Falcao stroked home his 30th international goal, making him the first player from Colombia to reach such a milestone, midway through the second half of a cagey encounter in Kazan, where defeat for either side would have meant elimination from the competition.
RADAMEL FALCAO!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 24, 2018
4 years after missing the FIFA World Cup due to injury, El Tigre gets his first FIFA World Cup goal. 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/O7Uyfcros1
Barcelona defender Yerry Mina scored the opener, powering a header beyond Wojciech Szczesny five minutes before half-time to enliven the contest, and it was the creativity and industry of Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez that picked apart Poland's tightly stitched seams.
The presence of James, fully fit again after a calf injury, vastly improved Colombia's link-up play following a below-par performance in their opening 2-1 defeat to Japan, and he provided the assist for Cuadrado to add a third goal that put the game well beyond Poland.
Victory leaves Jose Pekerman's side on three points in Group H, one point behind co-leaders Japan and Senegal ahead of their crunch match against the latter on Thursday.
Poland will have a role to play in deciding the fate of the group when they take on Japan, but ultimately head coach Adam Nawalka can have few complaints about being dumped out of the competition after two games in which his side failed to provide talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski with adequate service.
The first ever meeting between these two sides began with a number of heavy challenges at both ends of the field that prevented the game from developing into an early rhythm.
Colombia started to dominate the midfield and launched attacks down the right flank through Cuadrado, but the Juventus winger failed to penetrate a packed Poland defence.
Nawalka's side set their stall out to avoid falling behind as they did in the first half of their 2-1 defeat to Senegal and Colombia's chances of breaking their resolve were hit by an injury to Abel Aguilar, who was taken from the field on a stretcher in the 32nd minute and replaced by Mateus Uribe.
But shortly after Cuadrado came alive, running at the Poland defence and starting a move that culminated with an exquisitely weighted cross by James that was met by the head of Mina, who lost his marker to head over Szczesny's outstretched arms and into the net.
What a ball by James! What a finish by Yerry Mina!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 24, 2018
Colombia take the 1-0 lead late in the first half. 🇨🇴 pic.twitter.com/Yb9GMUCgd6
Juan Quintero fired wide from 25 yards as Colombia started the second half brightly and Cuadrado then squared to Falcao on the edge of the box, but the Monaco striker lifted his shot well over the crossbar.
The isolated Lewandowski's first real chance of the game arrived in the 58th minute when he controlled a long pass brilliantly only to shoot straight into David Ospina's midriff as Poland attempted their first shot on target of the game.
Having survived that scare, Colombia came to life and Quintero's superb slide-rule pass presented Falcao with a one-on-one situation and he expertly guided the ball past Szczesny with the outside of his right foot to double his side's lead.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, James' pass from the left found Cuadrado in space through the middle and he took a touch before applying an assured finish into the bottom-right corner of the net.
THE DANCING COLOMBIANS ARE BACK!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 24, 2018
Cuadrado finishes the breakaway after another beautiful pass from James and celebrates in style. pic.twitter.com/NBiJXM6MGF
Colombia almost added a fourth after a mix-up between Jan Bednarek and Szczesny, but Uribe's backheel was cleared off the goal line to leave the final score 3-0.