James Rodriguez’s brilliance carries Colombia again: ‘I placed everything on James’

'Like a rare dimonad in an upmarket jewellers, James has been discovered,' writes Gary Meenaghan from Brazil, where Colombia coach Jose Pekerman told him he 'never had any doubts this was going to be James' World Cup'.

James Rodriguez applauds as he goes off the pitch during Colombia's 2-0 win over Uruguay on Saturday night to advance to the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals. Eitan Abramovich / AFP / June 28, 2014
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RIO DE JANEIRO // It is not often a player worth €45 million (Dh225.5m) is toasted as a "discovery", yet James Rodriguez is proving just that. Colombia's creative midfielder has now scored five goals in four games and assisted another three to help his country progress to the quarter-finals of a World Cup for the first time in history. He is the rising star at a World Cup full of established names.
Rodriguez, who goes solely by his first name and pronounces it "Hamez", has been a familiar figure for a few years, courtesy of his performances in three seasons at Porto, which led to his big-money transfer to AS Monaco last summer.
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Few in football, however, would have ranked the 22-year-old in the same league as Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez in terms of the way he can influence a game. Monaco had paid an inflated transfer fee because Monaco can pay an inflated transfer fee. Nobody considered it reflective of Rodriguez's actual value.
That notion is starting to change. The latest chapter in his remarkable tale arrived on Saturday night – and in such a way it grabbed the air around your mouth and forced it down your throat. A sharp intake of breath was all that could accompany the technically perfect volley that he struck in the 28th minute at the Maracana against Uruguay. He followed it up in the second half, when he poked home after a fine combination of passes between his yellow-shirted teammates. Colombia won the tie 2-0.
After the match, but before Rodriguez had appeared to collect his third Man of the Match award in four games, Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguay coach, was asked about the player who had killed his side's chances of progressing.
"He has shown he is a main talent and that it has nothing to do with his life experience," Tabarez said. "[Diego] Maradona, Messi, Suarez, James Rodriguez: They do things because they have certain gifts that make them special. To me, he is the best player at this World Cup. We tried to limit him, but he kept coming and made some surprises, especially the long shot."
If "the long shot" is not Goal of the Tournament come July 13, prepare for an unfathomable wonder strike in the days to come. Nothing scored before now is even close to bettering what was witnessed on Saturday by 72,000 spectators and millions of television viewers.
Standing 25 yards from goal and with his back to the keeper, Rodriguez caught a pass on his chest, turning slightly to lay it off to his right and then executed a strike so beautiful the Colombians who had earlier been recorded praying must have concluded their wishes had been answered. The ball rattled the underside of the cross bar and nestled in the net.
Jose Pekerman, the Colombia coach, said he "never had any doubts that this was going to be James' World Cup". He was in the minority, when Colombia lost Radamel Falcao to injury, many analysts simply wrote Colombia off. With each game, they are proving their worth.
Pekerman added: "I have worked with many elite players of a very high technical level and I placed everything on James because I saw extraordinary abilities. He has no objections about being given the responsibility, even though he remains young. Football forces you to deal with many situations, but we are talking about a player who has all the ability in the world."
Colombia were good value for their advancement, taking the game to Uruguay early on and comfortably dominating possession. When the second goal arrived, in the fifth minute of the second half, it seemed to instigate a more defensive approach by Pekerman, who began making personnel changes in a bid to close the result out. He need not have bothered: Uruguay, without Suarez, largely appeared toothless.
Meanwhile Rodriguez, for his part, may score great goals, but he does not provide great soundbites. Asked about his sumptuous volley, the man with the golden feet, merely replied: "We are very happy because we are making history. As a younger man, I always wanted to be here. It was a great dream of mine and we hope to do even more. This is a team that wants to win. A lot."
They face hosts Brazil on July 4, in Fortaleza. There is little doubt as to who among the Colombians the focus will be on. Like a rare diamond in an upmarket jewellers, James has been discovered.
gmeenaghan@thenational.ae
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