World Cup: Colombia to face Brazil in quarterfinal
(CNN) — Brazil had promised there would be a time where the world would finally see a special player.
He wears a yellow shirt and produces moments of magic which mere mortals can scarcely dream of replicating — unless on their games console.
He’s 22 years of age — a player with quick feet, a mind which sees each and every move before his opponents have drawn breath, a player who can score a goal when for all the world it appears impossible.
What Brazil didn’t promise is that he would wear the yellow of Colombia — and his name is James Rodriguez.
While Neymar might be the face of this World Cup, Rodriguez is the man that football fans have fallen for.
His two strikes propelled Colombia to a 2-0 victory over Uruguay and into its first ever World Cup quarterfinal where it will play Brazil and made him top scorer in the tournament with five goals.
It promises to be some occasion in Fortaleza where the two 22-year-old stars will take to the same field — but if Rodriguez reproduces this performance, Brazil will surely be heading out.
In Colombia, they call him “El Pibe Nueva” — the New Kid — the man who takes on the mantle of former Colombian great Carlos Valderrama.
Valderrama, known as “El Pibe” is widely acknowledged as the greatest Colombian to have kicked a ball — though even he expects that to change.
This contest was an example of the New Kid rising to the top.
Sometimes you witness something so special that it’s difficult to imagine quite how it came to pass.
Perhaps on Friday night, Rodriguez went to sleep and dreamed of how he’d score the perfect World Cup goal.
But even then, as the moon looked down upon Rio de Janeiro, it is doubtful that Rodriguez would have envisaged scoring a goal so perfect that it will no doubt be played over and over for years to come.
Make no mistake — Rodriguez’s volleyed strike, which would have caused a gasp and a sharp intake of breath from those watching around the world, was a moment never to be forgotten.
That will be clear once kids across Colombia, Brazil and indeed across the world, begin trying to recreate the goal scored by football’s latest sensation.
It would be wrong to call Rodriguez a new star — he moved to French club Monaco from Porto last year for around $65 million.
But his emergence on the international stage has captured the imagination of those who have yet to witness the talented playmaker in action.
His two goals helped secure Colombia’s place in Friday’s quarterfinal against a Brazil side which sneaked past Chile courtesy of a penalty shootout victory.
While it may be the host nation, Brazil will surely feel more pressure and anxiety at the thought of facing this Colombia team — a side which plays with a style and swagger which Luiz Scolari’s men have so far lacked.
That everyone who walked out of the Maracana after the game was speaking about Rodriguez was a testament to the player but also ensured another star name was temporarily forgotten at least.
After all, much of the lead up to the game had focused on one man — a man who was nowhere to be seen.
Luis Suarez, banned for four months from all football and suspended for nine international games following his bite on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, may have been absent from the Maracana, but his shadow loomed large.
Uruguay’s players gathered in the dressing room to take photos of themselves holding his shirt, while the entire country has remained defiant in the defense of its hero.
FIFA confirmed to CNN that the Uruguayan Football Association will appeal Suarez’s ban — but he will certainly take no further part in this World Cup.
Instead, back at home in Uruguay, he could only watch on as his teammates were brushed aside by a vibrant, exciting and hugely talented Colombian side.
Colombia, playing in its first World Cup since 1998, has produced some of the most eye-catching football witnessed so far — an impressive feat given the absence of Falcao, the team’s star striker.
Led by Rodriguez, this is a team which oozes flair, adventure and style while still ensuring the backdoor remains slammed firmly shut.
The Monaco playmaker had already scored in each of the three group games — but none of those goals match the finish he produced to give his side a 28th minute lead.
When the ball popped up to him, some 20-yards from goal, most would have expected Rodriguez to control the ball, take it down, and possibly have an effort on goal.
What nobody expected, nor thought possible was what happened next.
Rodriguez took the ball on his chest, allowed the ball to drop, and then unleashed a volley which flew past Fernando Muslera in the Uruguay goal, hit the underside of the crossbar, and nestled in the back of the net.
It was thing of beauty — a goal which took the breath away.
As Rodriguez ran away to celebrate with what has become an almost traditional dance, Uruguay appeared stunned by what had just occurred.
With its own talisman missing, it was Colombia’s which began to dictate the game.
Rodriguez, appearing at his first World Cup, plays with a poise and experience which belies his years.
Each and every time the ball arrives at his feet there is a buzz, a hum, around the stadium which greets the way he controls the ball, whenever he shifts it right, moves it left, or finds a teammate.
But it’s not all about Rodriguez. Pekerman, who led Argentina to the quarterfinals in 2006 where it was beaten by Germany, has molded together a team which thrills and excites each time it takes the field.
Its second goal was a case in point — a wonderful team move which led to Rodriguez slotting the ball home from close range after Juan Cuadrado had headed the ball back across goal.
That goal, which arrived five minutes after the interval, killed off any hopes Uruguay might have had of launching a comeback.
It briefly rallied late on with David Ospina in the Colombia goal forced to make saves from Cristian Rodriguez and Maxi Pereira, but its late pressure proved futile.
Instead, Uruguay’s players will fly home where Suarez will no doubt be waiting for them and wondering what might have had happened had he been able to play.
But for all the talk of absent stars, it was the name of a new one which will undoubtedly be the new focus of this World Cup.
He’s only 22. He plays in yellow and he produces moments of magic which bring football fans to their feet.
He’s not Neymar though — no. He’s James Rodriguez — and he’s coming for Brazil.
By James Masters