Four years ago, Colombia swept aside the cobwebs of 16 years watching the tournament on television to storm to a best World Cup finish.
Four straight victories before a 2-1 defeat by hosts Brazil on a tempestuous night in Fortaleza meant Jose Pekerman’s side exited with their heads held high.
James Rodriguez had arrived at the tournament with many English speakers not even knowing how to pronounce his name. He departed as an international star.
Six goals from midfield meant ‘Hamez’ lifted the Golden Boot as top goalscorer; his exquisite strike against Uruguay was judged the tournament’s best goal.
The Colombia number 10 was clearly the team’s standout performer, but he was also joined by a supporting cast that helped ‘Los Cafeteros’ (‘the Coffee Growers’) serve up some of the finest football seen at the tournament.
Four years on, Colombia’s football no longer drips with the same energy and vibrancy. Both through qualifying and for most of this World Cup so far, Colombia have been staid, erratic and unconvincing.
With Rodriguez persistently dogged by a calf strain, Colombia have struggled to assert their authority on this tournament. Only in the crushing 3-0 win over Poland have they turned on the style. Rodriguez, of course, was man of the match in that game following two sublime assists.
Against Senegal, his forced substitution after just 31 minutes has left 50 million Colombians fretting about the fitness of their team’s star before Tuesday’s last-16 tie against England at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.
Now Pekerman, a wily Argentine, faces a huge call – whether to risk Rodriguez and maintain his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, or consider losing a creative midfielder in order to secure control in the middle.
Whatever the tactical shape, their style will remain the same: to launch quick transitions and unsettle England’s back three down the channels, while ensuring left-footed playmaker Juan Fernando Quintero pulls the strings from midfield in providing the service for captain Radamel Falcao.
Will Jose Pekerman risk his injured star man against England?
What are Colombia’s strengths?
In just over seven games at the Brazil and Russia World Cups, Rodriguez has struck six goals and provided four assists. Aged 26, he’s already his country’s joint third all-time top scorer with 21 goals.
Colombia’s hopes of advancing to the quarter-finals clearly rest heavily on getting him fit and ready before Tuesday. No player has ever been so influential for the South Americans at a World Cup.
But they are not a one-man team in the same way Argentina’s form is tied to the genius of Lionel Messi, or even Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo. In particular, England should be worried by the team’s other attacking options.
Juan Cuadrado ran riot against Poland, because he was playing against a back three that gifted him the space to get behind Maciej Rybus. Using his pace and nimble footwork, the former Chelsea winger wreaked havoc in the penalty area.
Against Senegal, it was a different story.
"We tried to involve Cuadrado as much as possible," said Pekerman. "But we couldn’t find him due to Senegal’s tactics." Cuadrado had been smothered, and he was increasingly forced to drop back and make runs from deep.
Against England, he will again be up against a back three, and most likely marked by a converted winger in Ashley Young. Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate has been warned.
While Cuadrado is all speed and tricks, Quintero is the team’s brains. Blessed with sublime vision, there are few players at this year’s World Cup as technically gifted as Quintero.
He is so good Pekerman shifted Rodriguez from his favoured number 10 role to a position out on the left wing to accommodate both talents.
England must also pay particular attention to the 25-year-old’s quality from dead-ball situations.
With 6ft 5in centre-back Yerry Mina having already roared home two ferocious headers from Quintero’s pin-point deliveries this tournament, Southgate’s men will have to remain organised and switched on at all times.
What are Colombia’s weaknesses?
Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina has long been his country’s hero – and has pulled off some wonderful saves at key moments in Russia. But while he remains an excellent shot-stopper, there are holes in his game England can exploit.
From both crosses and corners, Ospina looks far from assured under high balls into the box. Against physical teams that get on top of him, he can be put under severe pressure.
No country has scored more goals from set-pieces than England at this tournament, so this could be a major advantage for Southgate’s men.
Will Falcao’s body hold out against a physical England team?
At the opposite end of the field is talismanic striker Radamel Falcao. England did not see the best of the 32-year-old during his two-year spell in the Premier League, but ‘El Tigre’ has since bounced back, and is again his country’s indisputable number nine.
But Falcao’s injury-ravaged body is increasingly creaking, and having already clocked up three games in nine days at this tournament, it remains to be seen whether he will be at his clinical best.
Colombia’s defence can also be got at. Despite keeping consecutive clean sheets for the first time in World Cup history, there have still been plenty of nervous moments – particularly against Senegal – to concern Pekerman.
Mina and Davinson Sanchez will form the backbone of Colombia’s defence for years to come. They are both young, blessed with pace and playing at two of the world’s top clubs – Barcelona and Tottenham respectively.
But they are yet to forge a deep understanding of working together, and their high defensive line can be exploited.
Do Colombians think they will beat England?
The general view in the Colombian media after England were confirmed as their opponents in the last 16 was ‘at least it wasn’t Belgium’.
Colombia’s expectations were always to get out of the group stage and try to emulate the achievements of four years ago by reaching the quarter-finals.
"England are the favourites," said former Aston Villa midfielder Carlos Sanchez. "They are the ones who invented the game and they also have some top-quality players."
That is the view still shared by most Colombians – England perhaps have the edge, but Colombia stand a good chance and the draw could have been far crueller.
Colombia icon Carlos Valderrama believes there is nothing between the two sides.
"It will be very tight," he said. "In fact, it will be so close that a penalty or a free-kick will be the difference; Colombia will have to make their opportunities count."
Yet one issue – Rodriguez’s injury – has left many worried.
"We have a huge problem," said Gabriel Meluk, the sports editor for Colombia’s main newspaper El Tiempo.