Colombia vs. Uruguay: 6 Things We Learned
Colombia continue to impress as they defeated Uruguay 2-0 at the Estadio do Maracana on Saturday and punched their ticket to the quarterfinals.
James Rodriguez scored a brace in the mythic stadium where Uruguay won their second World Cup 64 years ago. He has taken Colombia to a place they have never been before. The man responsible for Colombia’s performance, manager Jose Pekerman, has also reached a milestone, as he has now accumulated nine World Cup matches without a loss, per MisterChip on Twitter.
Here are six things we learned from Colombia’s historic victory.
Standing Ovation for ‘King’ James
James Rodriguez was the best player of the group stage. Against Uruguay he has confirmed his status as the most outstanding player in the World Cup. Not only that, but he should be in contention for the best goal of the tournament with the masterpiece that he painted in the Maracana.
He has done something that seemed impossible before the tournament kicked off. He has made everyone forget that Colombia’s main star—Radamel Falcao—isn’t on the team. Rodriguez has not only been a great playmaker, but he has shown his deadly finisher skills. In other words, he isn't only playing as the team’s James, but also as the team’s Falcao.
The great goal that Rodriguez scored was the game-changer. It changed Uruguay’s plan and took Colombia to their historic victory. The second one served as the final nail on Uruguay’s coffin.
Curiously, the Maxi Rodriguez goal that sent Pekerman’s Argentina to the quarterfinals against Mexico in Germany 2006 was very similar to the Monaco playmaker's first goal.
Jose Pekerman took advantage like no other coach of the third group-stage match—considering the advantages he had coming into that game.
Against Japan he tried different tactics and gave game time to players who had been on the bench. His experiment worked so well that Colombia not only won 4-1 against Japan, but he found the formula to win in the round of 16.
During the first two games, Victor Ibarbo played as Colombia’s left winger and Teofilo Gutierrez was the only nominal striker. Even though he won those games, Pekerman had the capacity to identify what wasn’t working as planned. Against Japan, he found that Jackson Martinez was a better option than Ibarbo and that he could pair up on top with Gutierrez.
Having Martinez on the field against Uruguay also gave Pekerman the commodity of subbing Gutierrez for midfielder Alexander Mejia and still have a forward in the game.
Great players need extraordinary players to support them. In the NBA Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen, while in football Pele had Garrincha. In Colombia, James Rodriguez counts on Juan Cuadrado.
If it wasn’t for James, all the praise on this team would be for Cuadrado. The Fiorentina player has an impact in both wings and even in the middle when he moves into that area. His speed and dribbling skills wear out defenders and cause rivals to give away dangerous free kicks in favor of the South Americans.
Colombia’s second goal came from a team play that ended with Pablo Armero’s cross that Cuadrado cleverly headed back to Rodriguez. He easily scored his brace thanks to Cuadrado. Even in the goal celebration, Rodriguez gave the credit to his teammate.
Uruguay Couldn’t Break the Colombian Wall
Uruguay had to attack in the second half and managed to create clear chances. Due to James Rodriguez's dazzling performance, it almost went unnoticed, but Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina was crucial in preventing Uruguay from scoring.
In the first half, he had a save against an Alvaro Gonzalez shot, but that was all the action the goalie saw. It is hard to be focused for a full match when you are not getting into the action constantly, but Ospina did it.
In the second half, Cristian Rodriguez drilled a powerful long-range shot that Ospina saved. Later on, Maxi Pereira had a one-on-one situation, but Colombia’s 'keeper denied him. Finally, Ospina also superbly stopped a threatening shot from Edinson Cavani.
No Suarez, No Party
Luis Suarez's absence was impossible for Uruguay to overcome. Colombia could have still won the match if he had been on the field, but it’s undeniable that Uruguay’s offensive game loses too much without him.
The impact of losing him was not only on the field; it also affected the mental aspect of the Uruguayan players. A similar situation happened to Argentina in USA 1994 when Diego Armando Maradona was expelled from the tournament.
Even when Diego Forlan was at its best during the 2010 World Cup and was the star of the team, Uruguay also missed Suarez after he got ejected against Ghana. If we add 2010 and 2014, Uruguay have played 11 World Cup matches and lost four (two in each Cup).
Suarez did not play in any of those four games.
Looking for a Place Among the Football Gods
Colombia has now surpassed what the Golden Generation did in Italy 1990. Even the legendary Carlos "Pibe" Valderrama admitted in a tweet that if this team advanced to the quarterfinals, they would become the greatest in Colombia’s history.
They have done it.
However, they need to go further into this World Cup to become more than just a Cinderella story that will fade away in a quarterfinal round. They are now face-to-face with the opportunity of entering the football Olympus. No excuses are valid—not even that the next rival is the host country and five-time world champion.
The football world started considering Netherlands to be among the best teams without winning a World Cup, thanks to a transcendental performance that took them into the World Cup final in 1974. Colombia have the talent to match that performance and perhaps even better it.