King James' Reign: Three Thoughts on Colombia's 2-0 win over Uruguay
RIO DE JANEIRO -- On the strength of two James Rodriguez goals, Colombia is through to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time, defeating Luis Suarez-less Uruguay 2-0 at the Maracana.
In the final eight, Colombia will play host Brazil, which overcame Chile in dramatic fashion to stay alive. Here are three thoughts on Colombia's achievement:
JAMES, THE GIANT PEACH
Was it the goal of the tournament? Possibly, although you could make an argument that it wasn't even James Rodriguez's goal of the tournament, given how deftly he managed his chip against Japan. Given the circumstances, though, and given that the Japan goal was scored against a tired and demoralized defense, this was probably a bit more special.
Colombia had created little against an obdurate Uruguay when, with 28 minutes played, Maxi Pereira's headed clearance fell to Abel Aguilar. He nodded the ball forwards for Rodriguez, who chested the ball on the turn to drop into the swing if his left boot, which sent a volley arching up and over Fernando Muslera, the ball just brushing the goalkeeper's gloves before bouncing in off the underside of the bar. HD replays can undermine great goals, showing ludicrous swerves or goalkeeping errors when the ball had seemed to fly in directly, but here the replays, shown repeatedly on the big screen, related a glorious parabola, the ball moving just enough in the air to leave Muslera helpless.
The second was gorgeous as well, a flowing passing move finding Pablo Armero in space on the left. The fullback crossed, Juan Cuadrado headed back across goal and Rodriguez tapped in his tournament-leading fifth goal. It seems an odd thing to say about a player who moved for 45 million Euros last summer, but he has been the big breakthrough star of the World Cup, moving from being a promising youngster to bona fide star. He is only the 12th player in history to score in each of his first four World Cup games, and the first since Christian Vieri in 1998 (himself the first since Gerd Muller and Teofilo Cubillas in 1970).
SUAREZ AND THE SIEGE MENTALITY
Luis Suarez was serving the first match of his nine-game suspension for biting Giorgio Chiellini, but still dominated the atmosphere. Outside the Maracana, Colombia fans queued up to pose alongside a large advert featuring his image, while Uruguayan fans wore Suarez masks in solidarity with a player they mystifyingly see as a martyr - even though his excuse that he lost balance and fell into Chiellini was laughably ridiculous.
Uruguay even laid out his jersey as usual in the locker room. Inside the stadium a group of Uruguayans held up a banner that read "what about Blatter's bite?" and showed the FIFA president munching on a pile of banknotes.
Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguay coach, had vowed his side would fight "like never before" to avenge the scapegoating of Suarez (Tabarez, in his 12-minute statement that took the place of the pre-match press conference on Friday at least admitted Suarez had been at fault as he protested against the severity of the ban).
Tactically, his response was to bring in Diego Forlan and switch to a back three, with Maxi and Alvaro Pereira at wingback. That suggested Uruguay was prepared to dig in and implement the siege mentality at which Tabarez had hinted in his statement when he referred - bizarrely - to FIFA's supposed susceptibility to pressure from the British media. That was how it played out, Colombia dominating the ball but struggling to create opportunities until Rodriguez's goal just before the half hour. Once that had gone in, Uruguay was bereft, Edinson Cavani left to labor on with the aging Forlan, as Uruguay sought the sort of inspiration Suarez might have provided.
"Luis Suarez, how bitter you must be," sang the Colombian fans. "James scoring goals, you watching on TV."
Tabarez is a great admirer of Colombia coach Jose Pekerman. When he became Uruguay coach for he second time after the failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, he did so only after being assured he would have complete control over all levels of the national team. He then used that power to implement the same structure in Uruguayan youth development Pekerman had out in pace in Argentinian football a decade earlier.
Pekerman's work brought Argentina five U-20 World Cups out of seven, but he is still remembered in his homeland for what happened in the quarterfinal of the World Cup in 2006 when he was coach of the senior team. Up 1-0 in the quarterfinal, he took off Juan Roman Riquelme for Esteban Cambiasso and then Hernan Crespo for Julio Cruz, leaving Carlos Tevez, Javier Saviola and a young Lionel Messi on the bench.
Germany equalized and went in to win on penalties, and Argentina never quite forgave the coach for what his critics saw as a moment of cowardice, looking to defend the lead rather than allowing the creators to keep playing. Pekerman himself always maintained that his options were restricted by an injury to his goalkeeper and that his aim had been to get more height in the side to protect against Germany's aerial threat; that Miroslav Klose's equalizer was a header proved his point but didn't earn him much sympathy. Another quarterfinal against a host nation, though, offers a chance at some sort of redemption.