(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Kickoff: Well-rested Kane still tops World Cup scorers

July 02, 2018 - 11:02 am
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By BEN NUCKOLS,  AP Sports Writer

MOSCOW (AP) — When Harry Kane takes the field for England on Tuesday, it will be his first match in nine days. He's still the leading scorer at the World Cup.

Meanwhile, Colombia forward James Rodriguez — the top scorer in Brazil four years ago — hasn't found the net, and it's not certain he'll get a chance to change that against England because of a calf injury.

Measure Kane's five goals against Rodriguez's uneven, injury-interrupted play, and it's easy to see why England has been a darling of the World Cup and Colombia has yet to impose its will upon the tournament.

England took its foot off the accelerator after an initial two games that couldn't have gone better, resting Kane and seven other regulars in a group match against Belgium that only mattered for either side because it determined who they'd play next.

On paper, England vs. Colombia at Moscow's intimate Spartak Stadium is more or less a wash — England is 12th in the FIFA rankings and Colombia is 16th, not that the rankings have meant much in an upset-heavy World Cup that's already seen Germany, Portugal, Argentina and Spain eliminated.

The subject of fan debate for England has been whether coach Gareth Southgate did the right thing by taking it easy against Belgium because it put England in what looks to be the better half of the knockout draw. The winner of Colombia-England gets the Sweden-Switzerland victor in the quarterfinals, and then a semifinal looms against Croatia or Russia.

The other half of the draw includes the fearsome quartet of Brazil, France, Uruguay and Belgium.

Kane scored both of England's goals in a 2-1 win over Tunisia and added a hat trick as the Three Lions humiliated Panama 6-1. His total is one better than Belgium forward Romelu Lukaku (who's also played in just two matches) and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (whose World Cup run is over).

That puts Kane in a good position to collect the Golden Boot for the tournament's top scorer, an honor the Tottenham forward just missed during the last Premier League season, when his 30 goals were second to Mohamed Salah's 32 for Liverpool. Kane has 13 goals in nine games under Southgate and 11 in his seven appearances as England's captain.

Rodriguez's last goal for Colombia came in an October 2017 qualifier against Peru. He'd love to end that scoreless run on Tuesday, if his health allows.

The teams play at 9 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT, 1800 GMT) in the final round-of-16 match of the tournament.

Here's a look at Tuesday's other knockout game:

SWEDEN VS. SWITZERLAND

5 p.m. (10 a.m. EDT, 1400 GMT)

In a group with Mexico and Germany, it was Sweden that came out on top.

The Swedes bounced back from Toni Kroos' injury-time winner for Germany to beat Mexico 3-0 while the defending champions did themselves in by losing to South Korea.

With the exception of national team legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, no one's talking about Sweden as a favorite to win the title. But the Swedes could earn more respect by beating Switzerland and advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1994, when they ultimately finished third.

The Zlatan-free team lacks individual stars — veteran captain Andreas Granqvist is the leading scorer with two goals — and has built its identity on rugged defense, with clean sheets against both Mexico and South Korea.

"We have a clear game plan and we are playing according to that," coach Janne Andersson said. "Our players have been incredibly loyal to that and that's why we are here today."

Switzerland had one of the most emotional victories of the group stage, rallying past Serbia 2-1 with goals from Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, both ethnic Albanians with roots in Kosovo who celebrated their goals by making an Albanian nationalist symbol. Serbia doesn't recognize the independence of Kosovo, a former province, and the players were fined for their gestures.

Against Sweden, the Swiss won't have captain Stephan Lichtsteiner or fellow defender Fabian Schaer, each of whom has two yellow cards. That could be a problem for a team that has twice conceded the opening goal in Russia.

The Swiss have only lost one match in the past two years, with 15 wins and four draws during that stretch. That's good enough for a solid FIFA ranking at No. 6, but Switzerland is hardly a perennial power. The team hasn't made the World Cup quarterfinals since 1954.