Colombia made three consecutive FIFA World Cup™ appearances in the 1990s, running out at Italy 1990, USA 1994 and France 1998. It was during the last of those three tournaments that a six-year-old Colombian boy by the name of James Rodriguez started kicking a ball around, encouraged by his father.
It would be another 16 years before Los Cafeteros returned to the big stage, and when they did it was James, the kid from Cucuta, who would spearhead their challenge
A veteran of one FIFA U-17 World Cup and the 2007 and 2011 U-20 world finals, James made his full international debut in the opening match of the qualifiers for Brazil 2014.
Inheriting the No10 jersey once worn by the legendary Carlos Valderrama, the midfielder scored three goals in 15 appearances in the qualifying competition, including the first of Jose Pekerman’s successful reign, in a 1-0 defeat of Peru. In the meantime, he established himself with Portuguese giants Porto before making the move to Monaco in 2013. After enjoying a fine season in Ligue 1, the upwardly mobile James was more than ready to take on the world when he arrived at Brazil 2014.
Though injury deprived Pekerman’s side of the services of Radamel Falcao, their leading scorer in the qualifiers, James filled the breach with style. Operating close to the opposition box at all times, he struck a rich vein of form, scoring in every one of Colombia’s five games in the world finals.
In doing so he showcased his full repertoire of skills, finding the back of the net in a number of different ways, including a thunderous volley that earned him the Goal of the Tournament award. His haul of six goals brought him the coveted adidas Golden Boot ahead of its South Africa 2010 winner Thomas Muller, Lionel Messi and Neymar.
Minutes after he collected the award in Madrid, FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the new Real Madrid man about Colombia’s run at Brazil 2014, his outstanding displays and the individual accolades that have come his way as a result.
FIFA.com: Two months have gone by since Brazil 2014 started. Has your achievement sunk in yet?
James Rodriguez: I had a great tournament and I was able to help Colombia make the quarter-finals. We wanted to go even further but we came up against Brazil. They’ve got some great players and our dream came to an end.
You scored no fewer than six goals. Which is your favourite and why?
I like all six. They were all important because they helped the team to win games. Every one of them was special because scoring goals in such a big competition is unique.
The users of FIFA.com voted your first goal against Uruguay the Goal of the Tournament. How many times have you seen it since then? If you tried that move another 100 times how many do you think would go in?
I’ve seen it … (pauses and smiles) about 20 times. I always try it in training. You try 100 times and it goes in twice. This time it went in, and right in the corner too, although personally I prefer the one against Japan. It was classier and had a little more magic about it. It was a nice goal.
Did the absence of Radamel Falcao, Colombia’s chief goal threat, cause you to take on a more prominent role in the attack?
Even when Falcao’s around I always try to take on the responsibility for scoring goals. He scores a lot of them and he’s very important for us. We really missed him. But I’ve always tried to score goals as well as create them.
You mentioned the game against Brazil. At the end of it, David Luiz came up to console you and asked the fans in the stadium to give you a round of applause. What did he say to you exactly?
My dream was to make the semi-finals and even the final, and he just tried to lift my spirits. That’s what players and colleagues normally do, but it is something that I’ll never forget.
Did the way in which Brazil went out of the tournament against Germany give you cause to regret Colombia’s elimination even more?
No, that’s football. Every day is different. One day you do well and the next not so well. The only thing is, they lost heavily, which can happen sometimes.
Do you think Germany were deserving winners of the World Cup?
Germany are worthy champions, and they’ve got some great players. The four sides that got to the semis all deserved to be there.
You were only six when Colombia last played in the world finals, in 1998. Do you remember anything about that tournament?
I remember a little of France 1998. The whole team and the whole of Colombia were dreaming of reaching Brazil. We wanted to make history and we did that. It’s something that will be there forever.
Did you follow the tournament after Colombia were knocked out? And did you keep an eye on Thomas Muller and Lionel Messi, who were also in contention for the adidas Golden Boot?
I tried not to follow it so closely, but it was impossible because I wanted to win it. The Golden Boot is a dream come true.
Where are you thinking of putting your adidas Golden Boot?
It’s going home and that’s where it’s going to stay. It’s for life.