|James Rodriguez of Colombia unleashes a booming left-footer as Uruguay’s Egidio Arevalo Rios (centre) and Diego Godin watch, at the Maracana, on Sunday. The strike, the first of his two goals, is a contender
for goal of the tournament. (Getty Images)
Rio de Janeiro: There is no question that James Rodriguez is the sensation of this World Cup. The Colombia No. 10 sank Uruguay with a brace on Saturday to take his country into the last eight for the first time and up his tally for the competition to five goals in four games, in which he has also served up two assists.
The 22-year-old is taking it all in his stride, happily posing for photos with everyone and attending one by one to the dozens of reporters who crammed into the mixed zone at the Maracana to talk to the Man of the Moment.
Appearances can be deceptive, however, for James is not a player who enjoys being the centre of attention off the pitch. Shy and reserved, the new darling of Colombian football is less than relaxed in front of the microphones, in stark contrast to his demeanour on the pitch, where he once again showed his character to inspire his team to victory over the Uruguayans.
It was a win he sealed himself, scoring both the goals, the first of them a spectacular effort that can lay claim to being the strike of the tournament so far.
“You always try to score goals like that in training, and I have to say it was nice to get one,” he told the fifa.com in typically understated fashion.
Though James might have been trying to play down his wonder strike, the fact is the watching world could see its brilliance for itself and savour his skill in chesting the ball down and thumping an unstoppable volley on the turn, from outside the box, and in off the crossbar, leaving the Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera helpless.
Though Colombia had generated a good deal of expectation heading into the tournament, few expected any of their players to make a huge impact, especially in the absence of their injured talisman Radamel Falcao.
James has taken Brazil by storm, however, having already scored as many goals as Germany’s Thomas Muller did in winning the Golden Boot in South Africa, and in three games fewer.
His presence in the Colombia midfield has proved inspirational, as the Uruguayans can vouch for or indeed Japan, who were holding the Colombians to a 1-1 draw in the group phase when James jumped off the bench to guide his side to a 4-1 win, which he rounded off by scoring the final goal.
“It’s not easy to achieve what I’ve done, but my view is that when you have a dream and you really pursue it and picture things like this happening, then it can become a reality,” explained the toast of Colombia. “If you want something and you work hard for it, then it can happen.”
As far as the player is concerned, coach Jose Pekerman is one of the people responsible for it making it happen.
“The boss has helped me improve in everything,” said James. “He talks to me a lot and it’s thanks to him that my tactical appreciation of the game has improved along with my mental strength.”
Now that Pekerman’s charges have advanced beyond the last 16 time for the first time — a burden that had been weighing them down ever since Carlos Valderrama and his talented cohorts were knocked out by Cameroon at the same stage at Italy 1990 — James is convinced they can kick on and achieve even more: “This squad wants to go far and we genuinely believe we can.”
The Colombians have certainly given themselves a challenge, with hosts Brazil barring their path to the semis in Fortaleza on Friday. Contemplating that task, the tournament’s leading scorer said: “We’ve made history and we want to carry on making it. We’ve got Brazil coming up now and we know they’re a tough team with great players. But we hope to beat them.”
Colombia: David Ospina; Juan Zuniga, Cristian Zapata, Mario Yepes, Pablo Armero; Juan Cuadrado (Fredy Guarin, 81), Abel Aguilar, Carlos Sanchez, James Rodriguez (Adrian Ramos, 85); Teofilo Gutierrez (Alexander Mejia 68), Jackson Martinez.
Uruguay: Fernando Muslera; Martin Caceres, Jose Gimenez, Diego Godin, Maximiliano Pereira; Alvaro Pereira (Gaston Ramirez 53), Alvaro Gonzalez (Abel Hernandez 67), Egidio Arevalo, Cristian Rodriguez; Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan (Christian Stuani 53).
Man of the Match: James Rodriguez
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (The Netherlands)