A sublime James Rodriguez double helped make history for Colombia as they reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time by overcoming Uruguay 2-0 in Rio de Janeiro.
The 22-year-old was the magical conductor of the second all-South American affair of the day. He netted twice at the Maracana to go top of the scoring chart with five goals and inspire his country to a meeting with hosts Brazil next Friday that should capture the imagination of the continent and beyond.
A disjointed opening quarter-hour, beset by minor fouls, was marginally controlled by Colombia and punctuated by a bouncing blast from the adventurous Juan Zuniga. Fernando Muslera batted away the long-range effort with both hands. But with flank partner Juan Cuadrado claiming a licence to roam, the No18 was often the out-ball for Los Cafeteros.
Yet the structure arranged by Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez stifled the side that had flown through Group C with maximum points to reach the knockout phase. With the half-hour mark approaching and the 2010 semi-finalists content with their gameplan, it already seemed like something special was required for Colombia.
On 28 minutes, it truly arrived. Abel Aguilar sought to command control of a scrappy situation by nodding forward to Rodriguez, who, in a moment of football likely to be replayed endlessly, chested the ball on to his magisterial left boot and sent a swivelling volley into the roof of the net, grazing Muslera’s fingertips and the underside of the crossbar along the way.
Alvaro Gonzalez tested David Ospina at the other end with an angled drive, while an important, sliding interception by Cristian Zapata prevented Edinson Cavani from dashing inside the left channel towards goal. But Uruguay’s enforced greater attacking impetus did not yield a tangible response before the break.
Five minutes after the restart, Rodriguez struck again – for all that his first strike was borne from individual brilliance, his second was team play perfection. A flowing passing move eventually spread possession to Pablo Armero on the left, and his lofted cross to the far post was unselfishly and accurately glanced back into the box by Cuadrado for Rodriguez to tap home.
La Celeste are not known for giving up easily, as proven in the determination shown to qualify for the Round of 16, and Ospina was called into emergency action when Cristian Rodriguez dribbled forward into shooting range and thundered a left-footer towards the right corner, only for the Colombia custodian to sprawl wide and palm clear.
Jose Gimenez glanced a presentable opportunity off-target when picked out by substitute Gaston Ramirez’s set-piece. Later, luck briefly favoured the supporting Maximiliano Pereira when a fortunate bobble off his own head created a one-on-one against Ospina at the near post, but just as quickly deserted him in hitting straight at the keeper.
Cavani crashed a dangerous, low strike from 20 yards that demanded more attention between the Colombia posts, but Jose Pekerman’s charges were not to be breached. Now they must prepare for their biggest challenge yet at the World Cup: trying to topple the hosts in Fortaleza.