There was simply no stopping Juan Cuadrado in Colombia's 3-0 win over Greece. Try as they might, the Greek defenders could not get a grip on the wide-man, who time after time dribbled past one player, shimmied past another and surged towards goal with the ball at feet. For many viewers, the sight of Colombia's all-singing, all-dancing No11 strutting his stuff will have been a new experience, but not so for Los Cafeteros' faithful or followers of Italy's Serie A, where Cuadrado has been making waves for a couple of seasons now.
La Vespa, as Fiorentina fans fondly call him, motored up and down the right flank all game long and put in a superb all-round performance, including setting up the third goal with a cute flick. All in all, it was a great day at the office for the 26-year-old and his team-mates.
"Considering Colombia hadn't played a World Cup match for 16 years, winning by that scoreline goes to show just how focused the team were," Caudrado told FIFA. Indeed, the result has already gone down in Colombian football history as the country's biggest victory at the FIFA World Cup™.
Cuadrado exhibited more than just his footballing skills on his debut at the tournament. Renowned for celebrating goals by dancing and performing acrobatics, the twinkle-toed winger participated energetically in the body-popping routine the Cafeteros rolled out after Pablo Armero's opener.
"We'd spoken before the game and decided that if we scored, that's how we'd celebrate it," Cuadrado explained. "The fact that Armero got the goal only added to the emotion. It was as if none of us had ever scored a goal before! And we ran over to the dugout because this team is like one big family."
The way Colombia kicked off their campaign in Brazil has only heightened the expectations surrounding a side that achieved the country's best-ever result in the always challenging CONMEBOL qualifying group, finishing second behind Argentina. However, Cuadrado is not getting carried away. "Obviously, it's very important we don't lose sight of our goal of qualifying for the Round of 16, but we have to take it one game at a time," he stressed.
Wary of an Elephant stampede
Jose Pekerman's side are well aware of the threat posed by their upcoming opponents in Group C, Côte d'Ivoire. "In my view they are one of the forces to be reckoned with at this World Cup," said Cuadrado, going on to lavish praise on the Elephants' 'golden generation'.
"They have a wealth of experience and world-class players such as [Didier] Drogba, Yaya Toure and Gervinho, to name but a few. They are star names and key players for their clubs and give the team that extra edge. We know we have to show them a lot of respect, because they're a great side."
Cuadrado's buccaneering runs could be pivotal if Colombia are to get a positive result against the west Africans, particularly if his connection with James Rodriguez is on song again. Cuadrado gushes when talking about the Monaco man, who was another of the players that caught the eye against Greece: "When he's on the pitch, it makes everything easier. He's a great playmaker. Every time he gets on the ball, the rest of us try to offer him different options. We can make runs off the ball and he picks us out with wonderful passes."
The Colombian faithful packed out the Estadio Mineirao for the Greece match to such an extent that at times you could have been forgiven for thinking the encounter was taking place in Barranquilla and not Belo Horizonte. "It was absolutely amazing to see so many people supporting us," said Cuadrado. "Seeing a sea of yellow in the stands made us feel right at home."
It looks like being a similar story in Brasilia for Colombia's meeting with Côte d'Ivoire on 19 June. "It's a source of pride and an extra motivation. I think this support can add another string to our bow," concluded Cuadrado, who is keen to keep dancing to the rhythm of Brazil 2014 for as long as possible.