Unstoppable James Rodriguez can send Brazil packing

The Rio Report

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At Germany 2006, Mexico took Argentina to extra-time in their last-16 meeting. Rafael Marquez had put his side 1-0 up after five minutes before Hernan Crespo levelled things for the Argentines, and it remained that way until extra-time. With the match seemingly destined for penalties, Maxi Rodriguez exquisitely chested a hopeful Juan Pablo Sorin cross-field punt before lashing an unstoppable volley past Oswaldo Sanchez to send Argentina into the quarter-finals.

Rodriguez’s goal will forever be remembered as one of the greats of the competition, though some may argue his Colombian namesake has bettered his effort. While Uruguay were embroiled in an off-pitch battle over the length of Luis Suarez’s ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini, James Rodriguez was inspiring Los Cafeteros to victory against their South American counterparts.

The 22-year-old scored arguably the goal of Brazil 2014 so far, cushioning Abel Aguilar’s header with his back to goal before turning and unleashing past Fernando Muslera in one swift move without the ball hitting the deck. It was a strike of the highest technical quality and one that had supporters applauding the ability of the Monaco star. Five minutes after the interval, Rodriguez netted his and Colombia’s second to confirm their place in the next round of the World Cup.

After the last-16 stage, Rodriguez (5) has scored the most goals at the World Cup, while only Lionel Messi (9.25) and Arjen Robben (8.91) better his WhoScored.com rating (8.62). Those believing him to be one of the stars of the tournament so far would be justified in their assumption. The young creator has been vital to Colombia’s path to the quarter-final of the tournament, where they face hosts Brazil, all this despite 'star man' Falcao’s injury ruling him out of the competition.

In the absence of his club team-mate though, Rodriguez has flourished. Strangely enough, His most impressive display in Brazil undoubtedly came in the one game he started on the bench. Having already progressed from Group C as winners, Jose Pekerman opted to rest the youngster from the start against Japan, only for Colombia to end the first half of their meeting with Alberto Zaccheroni’s side level. However, the Argentine brought on the midfielder at the interval for the ineffective Juan Quintero and the pendulum almost instantly swung back in the favour of Colombia.

10 minutes after his introduction, Jackson Martinez fired Colombia back in front courtesy of a Rodriguez assist. With eight minutes of normal time to play, Martinez was slotted in by Rodriguez once more to double Colombia’s advantage, before the latter completed the rout with a wonderful solo effort, expertly dinking over the onrushing Eiji Kawashima to cap off a brilliant 45-minute display.

Rodriguez won the WhoScored.com man of the match award as a result of his performance, while his rating in the win (9.37) remains the best of every substitute at the competition. ‘El Neuvo Pipe’ has directly contributed to the most goals at the World Cup (7 - 5 goals and 2 assists) and considering only Netherlands (12) have scored more goals than Colombia (11), it’s a commendable return for Rodiíguez.

However, perhaps his greatest asset for Colombia this summer is his ability to ghost into the area and find a pocket of space to hurt the opposition. While Rodriguez boasts a statistically calculated strength of 'long shots', 4 of his 5 goals have been scored in the penalty area. The second goal against Uruguay is a perfect example of this.

Pablo Aremero picked out Juan Guillermo Cuadrado with a deep cross to the back post and the Fiorentina attacker was able to head back for Rodriguez to sweep home from close range. Being able to be at the right place at the right time for team-mates is just as important as his capability to drive into the opposition box with the ball and his ability to hit the back of the net from distance.

Coming up against Brazil on Friday will prove to be a true test of the mettle of this exciting Colombia side. The hosts are without key man Luiz Gustavo for the clash in Fortaleza due to suspension, so the unfamiliar pairing of Paulinho and Fernandinho are likely to anchor the midfield. Accordingly, Rodriguez is expected once more to be the creator-in-chief for Colombia as they look to progress to the semi-finals. The recent performances of the young Monaco ace suggest he can send Brazil packing and maintain his fine run of form that has won him the adulation of every football fan this summer.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

By Ben McAleer - @BenMcAleer1

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