Japan vs. Colombia: James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez Star on the Counter

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJune 24, 2014

CUIABA, BRAZIL - JUNE 24:  Jackson Martinez of Colombia (L) celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between Japan and Colombia at Arena Pantanal on June 24, 2014 in Cuiaba, Brazil.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Colombia completed a clean sweep of Group C on Tuesday evening, beating Japan 4-1 to seal top spot.

Juan Cuadrado opened the scoring with a penalty, Jackson Martinez bagged two and James Rodriguez stole in to score a sumptuous fourth. Shinji Okazaki netted for the Samurai Blue.


Starting XIs and Formations


Japan played their standard 4-2-3-1 formation, but still no Yoichiro Kakitani—the striker many have been yearning for—in sight.

Colombia played a very flexible formation that bridged the gap between 4-2-2-2 and 4-1-4-1 at times. Alexander Mejia played deep in midfield, Martinez was off the left and Juan Quintero floated as he pleased.


Packed Middle

Colombia's loose 4-2-2-2 clogged the middle of the pitch, placing two defensive midfielders central and allowing Quintero to come inside and operate near the No. 10 space at times.

Japan started the game trying to build through the middle but failing, running into defensive blocks Fredy Guarin, Mejia and the aggressive Eder Alvarez Balanta.


Forcing the ball into Keisuke Honda's feet quickly became a fruitless exercise, as he was quickly attended to and failed to create anything further forward.

The overall passing accuracy in the final third was lacking; Japan manager Alberto Zaccheroni needed a Plan B.


Playing Wide

Japan can be guilty of shrinking the pitch for themselves, making it difficult to assert their passing game on teams.

They finished the match with 60 percent possession and an 84 percent pass completion rate, per WhoScored.com, but it wasn't until they spread the play out wide that they finally began to make progress.

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Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida began bombing forward to overload the flanks, and that allowed time for Okazaki and Co. to find channels to attack inside the box.

Despite the hulking size and strength of Colombia's XI, Okazaki's goal was a header from 12 yards.


Colombia in Transitions

Colombia aren't too fussed about having the ball, and that plays to their strengths in two ways.

First, they're able to set up a low block and leave six back to defend (four defenders, two defensive midfielders); second, they can stretch the pitch vertically by luring the opponent forward and countering at pace.

Eight seconds elapsed between Martinez winning the penalty for the first goal and the ball being won in the defensive third. Los Cafeteros don't do pointless possession, they move it between the lines as quickly as possible.

It's a remarkable watch, and they did it again later for Martinez's second goal and Rodriguez's finisher. With Japan committing men forward, the game opened up perfectly for a drubbing.

CUIABA, BRAZIL - JUNE 24:  James Rodriguez of Colombia celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal past goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima of Japan during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between Japan and Colombia at Arena Pantanal on June 24, 2014 in C
Christopher Lee/Getty Images


Looking Ahead

Colombia played 4-2-2-2 and 4-2-3-1 during qualifying, with the occasional flirt with 3-5-2 not lasting longer than a game or two.

This formation, though, was odd; almost playing with a wide target man in Martinez who got stuck out on the left wing for most of the game. He was the out-ball early on before Rodriguez entered the fray, and he didn't convince with his decision-making or passing for most of the game.

Adrian Ramos ran the channels well as a lone striker but lacked finesse or goalscoring drive, and it felt like much of the pitch he wanted to cover was being taken up by the right-winger.

It's fantastic to win a game 4-1 with an experimental formation, but where does this leave Jose Pekerman's plans moving forward?