“Ole ole, ole ole, Hoy mi Colombia va a ganar,” reverberated around the Maracana as Colombia entered the ‘Temple of Football’ for their clash with Uruguay, with their fervent following urging their team to defeat the Luis Suarez-less La Celeste. 'Today, my Colombia will win.'
Inspired by one of the players of the tournament so far in James Rodriguez, that’s exactly what they did. Colombia coach Jose Pekerman masterminded yet another victory to maintain their 100% record and book a date with Brazil in the quarter-final.
Pekerman, or ‘El Profesor’ as his players affectionately call him, now has Brazil in his sights, and with the seemingly flawless system he has implemented, revolving around the sublime Rodriguez, Brazilian hearts could be in for another torrid evening in Fortaleza next week.
Now leading the way in the race for the Golden Boot, Rodriguez’s fantastic double strike - the first individual brilliance, the second a fine flowing team move - paved the way for his side to reach the last eight.
In a formation where the Monaco trequartista basically has free rein, Pekerman complements Rodriguez’s talents perfectly, thus leaving a tenacious Uruguay side unable to nullify Colombia’s ace in the pack.
Starting the match with Jackson Martinez out wide left seemed like an unusual move after the Porto hitman notched a double in Colombia’s last match against Japan just four days ago. And yet, there was method in the madness. Martinez's work created space behind the hard-working Teo Gutierrez, which was expertly filled by Rodriguez.
The 22-year-old was free to work out where the pockets of space would be and plan how to exploit them. Rodriguez only needs the slightest bit of room to devastate opponents, as he showed in producing the thunderbolt that broke the deadlock in the first half.
Indeed, Rodriguez was at the forefront of everything before the interval thanks to the freedom allowed him by Pekerman. Colombia’s number 10 touched the ball 31 times in the opening period alone – almost double that of any Uruguay player.
Martinez later moved back into the middle, with Rodriguez wide left, and this added yet more mystery to the Colombia attack, a conundrum that had Uruguay chasing shadows as Rodriguez finished off an exquisite team move just after the break.
Putting so much attacking emphasis on Rodriguez doesn’t affect the success of Pekerman’s plan, as only a few chances are needed to gain the required results. Colombia were the most clinical team in the group stages, with the best shot conversion rate (31%) in the tournament so far.
Rodriguez himself has been key to this statistic. The multi-faceted youngster has fired eight attempts so far in the tournament, scoring a remarkable five times. His coach is understandably impressed.
“Maradona, Messi, Suarez, James, - they do things because they have gifts. James is the best player at this World Cup,” declared Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez after seeing his side exit the tournament. High praise indeed.
A statistic that could heap more pressure on Rodriguez’s inexperienced shoulders is that the last player to be involved in seven or more goals at this stage of a World Cup was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or Pele to you and me.
However, much like his upcoming opponent Neymar, nothing seems to faze the bright youngster, and he was more than happy to face the media after his match-winning display on a warm Rio de Janeiro evening.
“There is no pressure. Brazil most follow us, we have good players,” he said. After a 16-year wait, ‘El Profesor’ has certainly built a team that was not just going to travel to Brazil to simply enjoy their moment in the sun.
The 64-year-old has generated an incredible togetherness and feel-good factor, which was highlighted by an emotional Faryd Mondragon’s appearance against Japan as a late substitute.
But fundamentally, Pekerman has showed many other coaches how to utilise what talent is at his disposal, and in James Rodriguez, he knows that keeping the young talent’s feet on the ground will not be a problem.
“I had no doubt that this would be James’s World Cup,” Pekerman said post-match. A bold claim that would daunt even the strongest of minds, but safe in the knowledge he has developed a co-ordinated unit that capitalises on the ability of one of Europe’s hottest properties, ‘El Profesor’ is showing no sign of ending his lesson just yet.
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