Meet Rodriguez, Colombia's Maradona
RIO DE JANEIRO
THE World Cup has a new superstar, an unassuming Colombian whose heroics are seeing him bracketed with Diego Maradona.
A sensational display from James Rodriguez fired his country into the World Cup quarter-final for the first time, with the attacking midfielder scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory over Uruguay, including a contender for goal of the tournament, on Saturday.
Rodriguez became the World Cup's top scorer with five goals and, based on comparative last-16 displays, a buoyant Colombia will fancy their chances against their next opponents Brazil, who squeezed past Chile on penalties earlier in the day.
Rodriguez, who looks years younger but turns 23 on July 12, the day before the World Cup final, epitomised everything that was good about their confident performance against Uruguay, which struggled at the Maracana without their banned talismanic striker Luis Suarez.
And while Suarez's name might have been on everyone's lips at the start of the afternoon, following his banishment from the tournament for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, Rodriguez was the talking point afterwards.
"Maradona, Messi, Suarez, James Rodriguez, they do things because they have certain gifts... It is not up to me to say, but I believe from what I have seen that he is the best player in the World Cup," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said.
His own manager, Jose Pekerman, was just as complimentary. "At his age, he has no problem taking on responsibilities and doing things that footballers take many years to understand," he said.
"Footballers need to handle a lot of situations and we are witnessing a footballer, with technique, who has all the things a top-level world player needs."
Rodriguez tilted the match Colombia's way by scoring his truly stunning opening goal after 28 minutes and became 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.
The stunning opening goal came when Uruguay only half-cleared the ball as far as Carlos Sanchez, lurking alone in midfield.
He instinctively headed it in Rodriguez's direction and the next few seconds of play are guaranteed to be replayed time and time again down the years.
Cushioning the ball on his chest with his back to the goal the youngster, who cost AS Monaco 45 million euros (S$77 million) when they signed him from Porto last year, swivelled and volleyed in with his left foot in one movement, powering the ball in off the bar from 20m.
It rivals the header by Netherlands striker Robin van Persie against Spain and Australian Tim Cahill's volley against the Dutch as a contender for goal of the World Cup, and it will take something special to beat it.
It was also a goal that was completely out of keeping with the opening phase of the game, which saw both teams hesitantly stutter around without creating any meaningful attacks.
Five minutes after half-time, a cross from Pablo Armero was headed back across the goal by Juan Cuadrado for Rodriguez to tap in.