James Rodriguez scored a contender for goal of the tournament and put the finishing touch to a sweet, flowing attacking raid as Colombia beat a toothless Uruguay 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time on Saturday.
Colombia will now play hosts Brazil in the last eight in Fortaleza on July 4 and on the comparative display of the two sides on Saturday when Brazil squeezed past Chile on penalties in their last-16 match, Colombia should fancy their chances.
While banned Uruguay striker Luis Suarez might have been the talk of the match beforehand, 22-year-old Rodriguez was the name on everyone’s lips at the Maracana at the end after scoring a truly stunning opening goal after 28 minutes and becoming the tournament’s top scorer after 50 minutes with his fifth goal in four games.
While his first was down to individual brilliance, his second rounded off a beautifully-worked team effort.
Without Suarez, banned by Fifa for biting, Uruguay had no way back.
“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 loss,” 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.”
WORLD CUP FOLKLORE
The opener 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 entered World Cup folklore.
Cushioning the ball on his chest with his back to the goal the striker, who cost AS Monaco 45.0 million euros when signed him from Porto last year, swivelled and shot 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 was a goal that was completely out of keeping with the opening phase of the game which saw both teams hesitantly stutter around without either creating any meaningful attacks.
Five minutes after halftime a cross from Pablo Armero was headed back across goal at the far post by Juan Cuadrado for Rodriguez to tap in the goal which effectively sealed the win.
“Uruguay is a very difficult team with a great coach. We knew it would be difficult but all our work has paid off,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said.