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Rodriguez raising the bar

By Reuters in Rio de Janeiro | China Daily | Updated: 2014-06-30 07:04

 Rodriguez raising the bar

James Rodriguez (right) scores his second goal for Colombia past Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday. Colombia won 2-0 to set up a quarterfinal showdown with host Brazil. Pilar Olivares / Reuters

Colombia marches on thanks to stunning brace from midfielder

A sensational display from James Rodriguez fired Colombia into the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time on Saturday, with the starry midfielder scoring twice in a 2-0 victory over Uruguay - including a contender for goal of the tournament.

Rodriguez became the World Cup's top scorer with five goals and, based on comparative last-16 displays, a buoyant Colombia will be locked and loaded against its next opponent Brazil, which squeezed past Chile on penalty kicks earlier in the day.

Rodriguez, who turns 23 on July 12, the day before the World Cup final, epitomized everything that was good about the team's confident performance against Uruguay, which struggled at the Maracana without banned superstar striker Luis Suarez.

And while Suarez's name might have been on everyone's lips at the start of the afternoon following his banishment from the tournament for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, Rodriguez was the topic of conversation afterwards.

"Maradona, Messi, Suarez, James Rodriguez - they do things because they have certain gifts that make them special. It is not up to me to say, but I believe from what I have seen that he is the best player in the World Cup," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said.

Colombia manager Jose Pekerman was just as complimentary.

"At his age, he has no problem taking on responsibilities and doing things that footballers take many years to understand," he said.

"Footballers need to handle a lot of situations and we are witnessing a footballer, with technique, who has all the things a top-level world player needs."

Rodriguez tilted the match Colombia's way by scoring a truly stunning opening goal after 28 minutes, then became the tournament's top scorer after 50 minutes with his fifth goal in four games.

Without Suarez, South American champion Uruguay had no way back and, although it rallied at the end and forced two important saves from Colombian keeper David Ospina, it was well beaten.

In the end Uruguay, raging against FIFA conspiracy theories and cursing Suarez's fate, had no reply to a Colombia side inspired to a great victory.

"It is obvious that Luis is our main reference, the main player we have, and that was felt. But that is not the reason we lost," Uruguay captain Diego Godin said.

"This group is leaving with its head held high. When you give everything, your soul, your heart and you give yourself for the shirt, people are thankful and Uruguayans are always going to be thankful."

Almost 20 years to the day after Colombia gained an unwanted place in the World Cup story with the murder of defender Andres Escobar following an own goal in a match against the United States, Colombia can now add to World Cup folklore for the right reasons.

Nobody in the Maracana was expecting the game to explode into life with such a stunning opening goal, which came when Uruguay only half-cleared the ball as far as Carlos Sanchez, lurking alone in midfield.

He instinctively headed it back in Rodriguez's direction and the next few seconds of play are guaranteed to be replayed time and time again down the years.

Cushioning the ball on his chest with his back to the goal, the youngster, who cost AS Monaco $61 million when it signed him from Porto last year, swivelled and volleyed in with his left foot in one movement, powering the ball in off the bar from 20 meters.

Although the ball brushed Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera's fingertips on its way in, he had no chance of saving it.

It rivals the header by Netherlands striker Robin van Persie against Spain and Australian Tim Cahill's volley against the Dutch as a contender for goal of the World Cup��and it will take something special to beat it.


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