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Inside France's World Cup ceremony

 By Tim Vickery

World Cup round of 16 dominated by Europe vs. South America duels

It is just as well for Colombia that their only top performance in the World Cup so far came against European opposition. Their 3-0 win over Poland needs to be the template for what is to come.

That's because Colombia are the only non-European side in their half of the draw.

Overcome England on Tuesday, and they will meet either Sweden or Switzerland the following Saturday. Get through that one and it is a semifinal against either Spain, Russia, Croatia or Denmark.

There is one Asian team in the last 16 and one from the CONCACAF region. Other than that, it is a case of whether South America can prevent a third consecutive European World Cup triumph. And Colombia's game with England is the third of three South America vs. Europe clashes in the second round.

The trio starts with a match in which there is a clear favourite. True, France have been hugely disappointing so far, but they rarely look like conceding a goal. That's in stark contrast to Argentina, who appear on the verge of a catastrophe every time they are placed under attack.

The World Cup is like time speeded up, and teams suddenly come together and click during the course of the competition. Morale in the Argentine camp will have greatly improved since they avoided a humiliating first-round exit. And the team look to have a better balance since the senior players have obliged coach Jorge Sampaoli to keep things simple, with an orthodox back four rather than the constant improvisations that he was being panicked into.

All the same, a question hangs over the game. France clearly have much more to give. But do Argentina? Do their ageing team have the legs to cope with a rival which is younger, better balanced and better rested?

Obviously they have the individual genius of Lionel Messi. But in all of the teams that remain in the tournament, is there a more formidable opponent to take care of the Messi marking duty than France's N'Golo Kante? If Argentina can haul themselves through this round, it will surely take an epic effort well worthy of a place in the history books.

Uruguay's game against Portugal would seem like a more evenly matched affair -- extremely evenly matched, since the teams are almost mirror reflections of each other. Both are pragmatic units built in support of world-class strikers -- Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani for Uruguay.

Much will clearly be made of the Madrid dimension, Ronaldo of Real against the Atletico centre-back pairing of Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez. The fitness of the latter will be important. Has he made a complete recovery from the injury that kept him out of the Russia game? Ronaldo will be probing.

At the other end, can Suarez and Cavani get behind an ageing pair of Portugal centre-backs? They will need supply, and Uruguay looked much better balanced in possession with the tweak to the formation that they introduced during the game against Russia. With the sides so well matched, extra time and penalties cannot be ruled out.

Colombia bring the round to an end with their match against England. It was interesting to see the England side sit deep in their match against Belgium. Even bearing in mind that coach Gareth Southgate was fielding a reserve side, it begged the question of whether this will be his tactical approach for the rest of the tournament, taking advantage of his team's pace on the counter-attack.

Colombia, though, have been at their least impressive at those moments when they have been forced back inside their own half -- as Japan did to them after the interval of the opening game, and as Senegal did for the opening 45 minutes on Thursday. Once they are forced back, centre-forward Radamel Falcao Garcia offers little, especially if he can be isolated from winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and star man James Rodriguez.

The latter is clearly an injury worry for Colombia. The key to the outstanding performance against Poland, Colombia's best since the last World Cup, was the link up between Rodriguez and Juan Fernando Quintero. In the absence of the skill and dynamism of James, Colombia lose plenty.

Quintero, though, remains a threat, with the quality of his set piece delivery and his left-footed passes for Falcao, who will probe for holes in the England back three -- all the more reason, then, to force the Colombians back.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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