James Rodriguez needed just 45 minutes as a second half substitute to make his mark on Colombia’s win over Japan. And what a mark it was.
With the scoreline at 1-1 Jose Pekerman introduced his number 10 at the break, having initially decided to rest Rodriguez with Colombia’s last 16 passage already secured.
Rodriguez proceeded to put on two outstanding assists before capping his display with a deft chip over the keeper to make it 4-1. He changed the game, and kept up his record of having scored in every game he’s played at the World Cup so far.
It was Jackson Martinez, who scored twice against Japan that picked up the Man of the Match award but there’s no doubting who has been Colombia’s Man of the Tournament.
It would be wrong to claim Rodriguez has announced himself at this World Cup. With Radamel Falcao out of the tournament, he was always likely to be Colombia’s brightest talent. Yet there were doubts over how Colombia would cope without their frontman.
Falcao’s injury dominated Colombia’s build-up to the World Cup. Even with replacements like Teo Gutierrez, Jackson Martinez and Carlos Bacca, his omission from the 23-man squad felt like an almost fatal blow.
But much like Mesut Ozil at the 2010 World Cup, where the German underlined his status as an elite player and secured a move to Real Madrid, Rodriguez has moved himself up a level to compensate. Alongside Lionel Messi, Neymar and Arjen Robben, he is now considered to be one of the shining lights of this glitteriest of tournaments.
No player at this World Cup has been involved in as many goals (five) as Rodriguez, scoring three and putting on two assists. That averages out as a hand in a goal every 45 minutes.
Rodriguez is the archetypal South American number 10 football has been waiting for since the decline of Juan Roman Riquelme. He is blessed with innate balance, skill and composure, and has the presence to take charge of even the most momentous of games.
Like all the best players, he sprints on his tiptoes, allowing him to change direction with the fluidity of a pendulum. The 22-year-old is relentless and operates all the way across the edge of the opposition box, even surging from deep with the ball at his feet.
Consider that he out-leaped Didier Drogba to head home Colombia’s opening goal against Ivory Coast, and there’s seemingly nothing Rodriguez can’t do. He has everything, including a whole host of prospective suitors.
Of course, Rodriguez has already been the subject of a big-money move, with AS Monaco parting with €36 million to sign the playmaker from Porto last summer, becoming the most expensive player in Colombian football history.
But that hasn’t stopped transfer speculation linking him with a move to the English Premier League, with Spurs and Manchester United in particular said to be monitoring him in Brazil. For now Rodriguez is concerned with taking Colombia as far as he can in the World Cup.
The South American side has never progressed farther than the second round of the World Cup, and has only ever reached that stage once (at Italia 1990).
But this is the finest Colombian team in a generation, since the days of Carlos Valderrama and Faustino Asprilla. They stand a real chance of making the latter stages of the competition, with some even hinting that they could win the whole thing on the back of their three straight group wins.
“For a long time in Colombia they have been looking for the next Carlos Valderrama and they’ve now finally found who that player is,” said Valderrama himself, with typical modesty.
“James Rodriguez will be the country’s next big star, not just for now, but for next ten years.”
Nobody is talking about Falcao any more. Colombia has a new star.