James Rodriguez bagged a brace as Colombia advanced to the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Uruguay on Saturday at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
Following a tight start to the match, Rodriguez broke through Uruguay's stout defence with a spectacular solo goal in the 28th minute. The 22-year-old then doubled Colombia's lead shortly after half-time, finishing a fine team move in the 50th minute.
The goals were Rodriguez's fourth and fifth of the World Cup, making him the tournament's top scorer through four games. As Colombia continue their run in Brazil, the AS Monaco star is quickly becoming a leading candidate for both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball—the awards given to the World Cup's top scorer and best player, respectively.
With his fine performances, Rodriguez has earned plenty of praise from journalists, while also impressing a similarly named superstar from another sport.
Having reached the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time, Colombia will face Brazil on Friday in Fortaleza. Though the hosts will have the advantage of playing on home soil, Colombia will enter the match in better form.
Uruguay played without star striker Luis Suarez, who is banned for the remainder of the tournament after FIFA found him guilty of biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini in his side's final group game. In place of Suarez, coach Oscar Tabarez called in 35-year-old Diego Forlan, winner of the Golden Boot as best player at the 2010 World Cup.
Colombia dominated possession early in the match but largely failed to trouble Uruguay's tight, disciplined defence. A moment of brilliance seemed necessary to break the resistance, and Rodriguez delivered just that in the 28th minute.
The chance developed after Uruguay failed to clear their lines properly, Abel Aguilar taking advantage of the opportunity to play a header toward Rodriguez about five yards outside the box. Rodriguez controlled the ball with his chest and, with one smooth motion, turned and volleyed past Fernando Muslera for a spectacular opener.
After carrying a 1-0 lead into half-time, Colombia doubled their advantage in the 50th minute with a brilliant team move—finished inevitably by Rodriguez.
The chance began to develop as Colombia switched play swiftly from side to side in the attacking third, full-back Pablo Armero picking up possession on the left edge of the box. Armero curled a cross to the back post, where Juan Cuadrado headed back into the middle for Rodriguez to sweep in with his first touch.
With that, Colombia were cruising at 2-0 and Rodriguez became the tournament's top scorer with five goals. Uruguay showed signs of life soon after, though, as Cristian Rodriguez tested Colombian goalie David Ospina with a fizzing drive from outside the box in the 64th minute.
Ospina saved again in the 79th minute, rushing off his line alertly to block Maxi Pereira's acrobatic volley. Five minutes later, he comfortably stopped Edinson Cavani's scuffed shot at the near post.
By then, Uruguay were well beaten, and after three minutes of stoppage time, Colombia were on their way to a first-ever World Cup quarter-final. With a repeat performance against Brazil, a first trip to the semi-finals might be next.
James certainly did his part for Columbia Saturday.
|Colombia Player Ratings|
|Alexander Mejia (for Gutierrez, 68')||N/A||6|
|Fredy Guarin (for Cuadrado, 81')||N/A||6|
|Adrian Ramos (for Rodriguez, 85')||N/A||5|
|Uruguay Player Ratings|
|Jose Maria Gimenez||5||5|
|Christian Stuani (for Forlan, 53')||N/A||4|
|Gaston Ramirez (for A. Pereira, 53')||N/A||5|
|Abel Hernandez (for Gonzalez, 67')||N/A||5|
(All quotes via FIFA.com)
Man-of-the-match James Rodriguez:
It's historic, a dream come true: I always wanted to score in the Maracana and now I have. If you want to win, every player is important. Uruguay had a lot of men behind the ball, so we needed plenty of movement up front and we got it. Now things are going to get even harder, but we can go far.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman:
I'd like to congratulate the whole of Colombia because they deserved this. We made some alterations because we knew how strong our opponents were - it's really important to know about the opposition. The main factor (in this win) was the first half, when we were very solid and managed to get ahead. It's great to have a player like James Rodriguez, and his confidence was very high after our previous game.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez:
We knew Colombia had a very good side, one that is able to keep possession and featuring very good players who contribute to the team. In the first half, they dictated the tempo and we conceded one of the goals of the tournament. In the second half, we made mistakes and conceded again. Then we had to take risks to reduce the deficit, but we came up against a 'keeper who performed extraordinarily well and didn't let us back into the match. But I'm proud of these players: once again they showed character and gave it their all.