Lightning Rod-riguez strikes twice against Uruguay
ROUND OF 16
(James Rodriguez 28, 50)
The Uruguayans were supposed to offer a stern test, an adequate examination of James Rodriguez's credentials.
He had been allegedly carried through the group stages, suggesting the opponents had been hand-picked by an old boxing promoter eager to protect his young protege.
Uruguay's physicality would surely expose the man who would be Colombian king as little more than a boy wizard. Their belligerence and occasionally brutish midfield would take care of the preening peacock.
But Rodriguez spread his wings and soared, leaving the Maracana awed by his plumage.
He scored both goals in the 2-0 victory this morning (Singapore time); the second a confirmation of victory, the first never to be forgotten by those fortunate to be present inside the stadium.
There appeared to be little danger when the ball was floated towards the Monaco striker.
Uruguay had their angles covered and overlapping runners marked. Rodriguez had nowhere to go. He was boxed in and strait-jacketed.
But his balletic feet did something that belonged in Billy Elliot with Tchaikovsky providing the soundtrack. Samba was about to be silenced by Swan Lake.
In one fluid movement of feminine grace, one that was entirely at odds with the rudimentary grunting, grafting, fumbling and fouling that was going on around him in the Uruguayan midfield, he adjusted his body to flick the ball off his chest and into the air.
His right shoulder dipped, his hips swiveled, his left leg swung around with a force that would've impressed Mr Miyagi. And then he connected.
But that description is still too blunt, too coarse, too simplistic. Bulls connect with china plates. Sledgehammers connect with walls.
Rodriguez didn't just connect, he caressed. He guided a missile towards the top corner like a kid gently releasing a paper airplane from his fingers. Somehow, the power never compromised the precision, never diminished its delicate touch.
He faces stiff opposition from Tim Cahill and Robin van Persie, but the Colombian rising star has established himself as a goal of the tournament contender.
More worryingly for the Brazilians, who must somehow curtail his creative enterprise in the quarter-finals, the 22-year-old appears to be growing into this tournament, wearing in the World Cup like a new pair of shoes.
Before this game kicked off, he had already scored and assisted five goals, a feat equalled only by Karim Benzema. Now he stands alone at the summit. Undaunted and unbowed, the kid has a head for heights.
Initially considered a stop-gap creative outlet in the absence of Radamel Falcao, he's now Colombia's attacking fulcrum. In four games, he's turned from replacement to indispensible, assuming the leadership role with his country that he enjoys with his club.
At Monaco, a 4-4-2 diamond system was devised to incorporate Rodriguez at its tip. The French home of Formula 1 build their football club around their sleekest engine. Jose Pekerman obviously paid attention.
Rodriguez floated in the final third, leaving Uruguayan defenders in his slipstream. His presence on the left was a nominal one, often switching with Juan Cuadrado on the right. Both his goals essentially came through the middle. When he roams, he rules.
Pekerman has fashioned a side filled with willing artisans who are subservient to the artist. They feed Rodriguez's creative impulses. He heads out on the hunt. They all feast accordingly.
Neymar enjoys similar benefits with Brazil. But he faltered against Chile. His penalty was decisive, but he drifted away from the game as it moved into extra time.
Rodriguez grew in stature at the Maracana after his extraordinary volley, scoring a second and always eager for a third, demanding possession from his teammates and more passion from the stands.
When he was substituted to save him for Brazil, he left to a standing ovation.
Arguments will inevitably continue on whether the Maracana witnessed the goal of the tournament this morning.
But the grand sporting arena was certainly graced by the current player of the tournament.
They’re a tough team, they have great players, and they also have their history. But we have to go out onto the pitch looking to win, as we’ve always done.
- Colombia striker James Rodriguez on facing Brazil in the quarter-finals