JAMES RODRIGUEZ, firmly established as one of the game’s rising stars, sent Colombia into their first ever World Cup quarter-final last night and a showdown against hosts Brazil as a Luis Suarez-less Uruguay exited the tournament.
Scorers: Columbia; James Rodríguez (28), (50)
The £37.5 million Monaco talisman struck arguably the best individual and team goals of the competition as Colombia maintained their status as genuine dark horses after yet another eye-catching, energetic display.
Everywhere you looked around the pockets of Uruguay fans, outnumbered by the yellow-clad hoardes in the 73,804 crowd but still making plenty of noise, you saw Sanchez masks, Sanchez banners and Sanchez scarves. Such is the esteem in which the Liverpool striker is held among his compatriots who take the view that the four-month ban meted out to him by Fifa for “that” bite is not only draconian but totally unjust.
But Colombia too, don’t forget, were without their most potent weapon, though for a different reason. Radamel Falcao has missed the entire tournament through injury but while conventional wisdom would suggest his absence might leave his team lacking a cutting edge, once again they proved, unlike Uruguay, that they have more than enough resources at their disposal.
None more so than the brilliant Rodriguez, perhaps behind only Messi and Neymar as the most dangerous player in the competition.
The only previous World Cup match between the sides was won by Uruguay in 1962, when the victors were coached by Juan Carlos Corazzo – grandfather of Diego Forlan who, as it happened, replaced Suarez at the ripe old age of 35.
Uruguay had also enjoyed the better of recent encounters, winning six of the previous eight meetings. But they hadn’t beaten South American opposition in a World Cup knockout tie since that famous day 64 years ago and this, remember, was a Colombia high on confidence.
As the sun disappeared over a humid, energy-sapping Maracana, so the Colobians continued to dominate possession, though after the thrill-a-minute encounter involving Brazil and Chile it was perhaps too much to ask for a repetition.
Rio was the scene of the greatest moment in Uruguay’s footballing history when Alcides Ghiggia’s winner against Brazil in the 1950 final famously silenced the old Maracana. An omen? Hardly.
After 28 minutes of little cohesion or quality, the place erupted as Rodriguez took one touch off his chest, swivelled and struck the sweetest of left-foot volleys to put Colombia in front with a goal that will surely be replayed for the rest of the tournament.
Could Uruguay, who now had to open up without Suarez, damage Jose Pekerman’s adventurous team? Alvaro Gonzales stung David Ospina’s hands but the cheers that cascaded round the Maracana at half-time were still in celebration of Rodriguez’s wonder strike.
Colombia gathered in a huddle at the start of the second half and within five minutes, had doubled their lead. Once again it was that man Rodriguez as he finished off a breathtaking team move, his seventh goal in as many appearances and fifth of the tournament.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, whose pre-match press conference consisted of denouncing Suarez’s critics rather than concentrating on the game, made a double switch, then a third. Now his team rallied hard and almost halved the deficit through Maxi Pereira.
Off came Rodriguez to rapturous applause as Colombia tightened up at the back and held on to set up the mother of all quarter-finals with Brazil in Forteleza on Friday.
Penny for Luis Suarez’s thoughts.
Colombia: Ospina, Zuniga, Zapata, Yepes, Armero, Aguilar,Sanchez Moreno, Cuadrado, Rodriguez, Martinez, Gutierrez.
Uruguay: Muslera, Maxi Pereira, Gimenez, Godin, Caceres, Pereira, Gonzalez, Arevalo Rios, Rodriguez, Cavani, Forlan.
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands). Attendance: 73,804