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Japan vs. Colombia: 6 Things We Learned

Hugo Chavez BarrosoFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2014

Japan vs. Colombia: 6 Things We Learned

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    Felipe Dana/Associated Press

    Colombia demolished Japan 4-1 and finished first place in Group C.

    Colombia coach Jose Pekerman gave playing time to players who had been on the bench in the first two games and rested some of the starters. However, that didn’t change Colombia’s spectacular offensive playing style.

    Colombia ended with a perfect mark of three wins in three games and advanced to the second round for the second time in its history.

    Here are six things we learned from the match.

James Rodriguez Is the Best Player of the Tournament

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    Christopher Lee/Getty Images

    James Rodriguez came into the game as a substitute in the second half, and even though Colombia was generating offensive plays before he came in, Colombia’s attacking power exponentially increased with Rodriguez on the field.

    The Monaco playmaker showed great chemistry with Juan Cuadrado and Teofilo Gutierrez in the games against Greece and Ivory Coast, but such chemistry also exists with Jackson Martinez. Rodriguez assisted Martinez a couple of times for him to score a brace.

    Rodriguez is in such a great level that he has become the type of player that quickly connects with anyone playing with him on top.

    In the final minutes of the game, Rodriguez scored one of the most beautiful goals of the World Cup: Rodriguez left Maya Yoshida on the ground and sent the ball into the net with a classy finish.

    Many praise Arjen Robben as the player of the tournament so far, but maybe you should give it a second thought.

    Colombia has looked just as outstanding as the Netherlands, and Rodriguez has been directly involved in eight of the nine Colombian goals. The only reason he wasn’t involved in the other one was because he wasn’t on the field.

Jackson Martinez Responds with Goals

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    Felipe Dana/Associated Press

    After Radamel Falcao got injured, it was thought that Jackson Martinez could have been the striker to take his spot. After all, it was Martinez that had to fill the Tiger’s shoes at club level and did it in a successful manner. Martinez was basically acquired by Porto to replace Falcao when he left for Atletico Madrid.

    Pekerman didn’t think so.

    Teofilo Gutierrez had been the only striker starting for Colombia in Brazil, but Martinez had his chance paired up with Adrian Ramos on top against the Japanese. Martinez missed a clear chance to score after Ramos set him up in the first half; he ended up sending a wide shot.

    Redemption came soon enough for the Porto striker as James Rodriguez assisted him a couple of times in the second half—this time, he didn’t miss.

    Martinez gained a lot of confidence after his first goal and showed his coolness in his second goal.

    Gutierrez showed chemistry with Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado but only scored once and missed clear chances in the first couple of games. Don’t be surprised if Pekerman gives more playing time to Martinez if Gutierrez isn’t lethal soon.

Pekerman’s Flexible Tactics

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    Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    Colombia’s manager took advantage of the privileged position Colombia was in after beating Greece and Ivory Coast, and he decided to try variables with his tactics.

    Pekerman had already tried playing with three center-backs in the past; he actually did it recently in a friendly match against Jordan days before the start of the World Cup.

    He tried it again by pulling back Alexander Mejia to help Carlos Valdes and Eder Balanta. However, the back line varied depending on the wingers going up front or staying back.

    The versatile tactics of Pekerman were also present in the midfield and forward lines. At some points there were lines of four men behind a lonely striker on top, but it modified into having two strikers on top or even three people in the final line.

    What makes it even more impressive is that the players seem to understand what Pekerman wants from them in every position.

    Cuadrado can either appear on the right or on the left, Juan Quintero can be in the middle or on the wings and Jackson Martinez can play on top and also back down to complement the midfield line. The players are just as flexible as the tactics; they aren’t static or stuck in a certain position.

    This makes Colombia unpredictable.

Hats off to Faryd Mondragon

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    When Pekerman announced there were going to be many changes in the starting lineup, he made it clear that goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon wasn’t among the ones coming off the bench to start against the Japanese.

    The Argentine coach waited until he felt it was the right time in the game to get Mondragon in. With less than 10 minutes on the clock, Pekerman ordered the historic substitution.

    Mondragon became the oldest player to ever play in a World Cup match.

    It was Mondragon that cried inconsolably in Lens after Colombia’s elimination against England back in France in 1998. Who would have thought that 16 years later he would have the chance to play in a World Cup match again?

    Mondragon showed that he still has reflexes when he saved a shot from Yoichiro Kakitani in a one-on-one situation.

Carlos Valdes' Disappointing Performance

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    Shuji Kajiyama/Associated Press

    Colombia’s starting center-backs Mario Yepes and Cristian Zapata have proven to be solid on what's supposed to be one of Colombia’s weakest lines.

    But backup Carlos Valdes wasn’t up to the task.

    Japan’s goal came off a great header from Shinji Okazaki. It was Okazaki whom Valdes was covering.

    Three Japanese attackers got into the box to strike a cross. All of them were covered man-to-man, and even though Valdes was close to Okazaki, he failed to either clear the ball or block the Japanese forward's header.

    In the second half Japan had a similar chance with a low cross, and on the man-to-man coverage, Valdes failed to be effective again; luckily for him, the shot went wide.

    On Mondragon’s one-on-one save in stoppage time, it was Valdes who gave away an easy ball close to Colombia’s box for Yoichiro Kakitani to face the veteran ‘keeper.

Sad Sunset

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    Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

    Japan left Brazil hugely disappointed with only one point.

    Japan has been a regular participant in the World Cup since France in 1998 and showed significant progress in its 2010 campaign.

    When Japan was drawn into Group C—along with Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast—it looked like they had a decent chance to make it into the knockout stage.

    Not only did they fail to qualify to the second round, but they were last in the group.

    Half of Japan’s roster play in European and Japanese football has shown that it can compete at the highest level, so an early exit is definitely a step back. Japan’s main stars, like Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa, didn’t shine a bit.

    Curiously, Japan's World Cup campaigns with two very different playing-style foreign coaches were unsuccessful at the most important tournament in football: Zico in Germany in 2006 and Alberto Zaccheroni this year.

    Maybe it is time for the Japanese to trust their own coaches more who understand the Japanese footballers' virtues and faults, and who can probably imprint a Japanese playing style that doesn’t intend to be Brazilian or Italian.

    After all it was Japanese coach Takeshi Okada who took them into the second round in South Africa.

    The days for Japanese football to rely on foreign coaches for improvement should be in the past.   

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