In a year speckled with deflating withdrawals from the 2014 World Cup due to injury, Radamel's Falcao's was perhaps the most disappointing.
When he was inadvertently hurt in a challenge with part-time footballer and teacher Soner Ertek in Monaco’s Coupe de France match with fourth-tier Chasselay back in January, football fans across the globe sighed at the injustice.
Seeing El Tigre in full flight is one of the game’s greatest pleasures at present.
Despite his motivation and faith to recover from his cruciate knee ligament injury in time for the tournament, it was little surprise when it was finally announced on June 9 that Colombia’s—and perhaps the world’s—greatest No. 9 wouldn’t make it.
Not only is Falcao a titan on the pitch—and he has been ever since he arrived in Europe with Porto in 2009—he is a class act off it.
When a bemused Ertek began to receive threats and abusive messages, Falcao took to his popular Twitter account to defend him.
Colombia, however, have already proved in this tournament of surprises that they are far more than their star striker plus 10 more. The thousands of Colombians who have followed their team across South America to cheer them on have another figure on whom to focus their adoration: James Rodriguez.
However much of a shame it might be that Falcao isn’t here—and actions such as the aforementioned tweet remind us what an asset he is to football on and off the pitch—the presence of James is beginning to tell us where the real epicentre of this team is.
Anybody who has followed his progress since he arrived in Europe as a teenager, a touch under four years ago, would not be surprised.
James took his time to become a Porto regular after arriving from Banfield, a fact at least partly due to the stellar quality of the Dragons’ squad at the time.
It quickly became clear he was indispensable, though. A hat-trick in the 2011 Taca de Portugal Final against Guimaraes—which rounded off Andre Villas-Boas’ treble-winning season—offered a window into just how important he would become.
In the wake of Hulk’s departure, that’s exactly what happened.
James operated on the right, but Porto’s traditional 4-3-3 system demanded that he develop his qualities as a No. 10 too—their wide attackers are always expected to drop inside and score goals. He did so increasingly in key encounters with Benfica and an eye-catching Champions League triumph against Paris Saint-Germain in October 2012.
When James made a €45 million move to Monaco last summer, his ability to handle the pressure was rarely in doubt.
Given the No. 10 role at the tip of Claudio Ranieri’s midfield diamond, he finished his debut campaign in a physical league as the leading assist provider. Defenders' attempts to intimidate him proved fruitless.
Having developed further under Ranieri, Colombia are feeling the benefit of James’ growth.
While we know plenty of players with wingers’ attributes employed in central areas—Spain and Manchester City's David Silva, for example—James can do both, employing speed and dribbling or picking passes and scoring goals. He covers all bases.
There is plenty to marvel over in Jose Pekerman’s side, with James’ nominal successor at the Estadio do Dragao, Juan Fernando Quintero, also getting on the scoresheet against the Ivorians with what turned out to be the winner.
However, it is their playmaker who knits it all together with the personality to win games and shoulder the responsibility of being the team’s go-to figure.
South American No. 10s have always been a huge part of World Cup history. Here and now, in the backyard of perhaps the greatest of them all, Neymar has a rival to the crown of this tournament’s central figure.
Long may James continue to thrill his country and neutrals alike.
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