OUR MAN IN BRAZIL
World Cup 2014: Columbia's James Rodriguez could send Brazil out of the running for the World Cup
Apart from containing James Rodriguez, Brazil must protect their flanks
Published on Jun 30, 2014 8:21 PM
WHEN Gonzalo Jara sent Chile's final penalty against the post and Brazil into the World Cup quarter-finals, the host nation heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Yet just a few hours later, relief turned to real concern, especially at the Estadio do Maracana, where Brazilians witnessed the Selecao's next opponent Colombia overwhelm Uruguay 2-0.
The Maracana is the ultimate symbol of Brazilian football. It is where some of the nation's greatest games, both domestic and international, have been played. But it is also where Brazil so painfully lost the 1950 World Cup.
Brazil have not made an appearance at the hallowed stadium at this World Cup. And they will not do so, unless they make it to the final on July 13.
It is why Rio native Thiago Vasco is worried that he will not get to see his beloved team in Rio.
"Colombia look really good and we didn't play well today," said Vasco, who was at the Maracana to watch Saturday's Colombia-Uruguay match.
"But they say that that is the sign of champions, when you can win when don't play well."
He had caught the Brazil game at a cafe outside the stadium and was among the many fans who were cheering in the streets after Brazil progressed.
Vasco only needs to look at Colombia for a team who win while playing well.
With fluid passing and quick interchanging of positions, great wingers, solid in defence, it was as if Colombia were the real Brazil and Luiz Felipe Scolari's 2014 vintage were imposters in yellow and green who play the long ball.
On Saturday, it was as if the Maracana belonged to Colombia as their fans numbered more than half of the 73,804 crowd, turning the arena into a sea of yellow.
Uruguay's fans tried their best to raise the spirits of a deflated team following the expulsion of Luis Suarez from the World Cup. While they wore masks of their fallen hero and chanted his name, his presence was felt even as his absence left the Uruguayan attack lacking any bite.
Edinson Cavani did not see much of the goal while fellow striker, the 35-year-old Diego Forlan, looked like his best days were behind him. How they could have done with Suarez's speed and guile.
But while Suarez was there only in spirit, Colombia's James Rodriguez's presence was very real, especially to the Uruguayan defence.
Monaco's best player last season, with nine goals and 12 assists in 30 matches, the attacking midfielder has been a revelation here.
Doubts over Colombia's World Cup chances surfaced when Rodriguez's Monaco team-mate Radamel Falcao was ruled out of the tournament. But how Rodriguez has filled Falcao's role of goal-scorer extraordinaire.
Entering the arena with three goals in three matches, he added his fourth and fifth on Saturday evening, the first of the two a contender for goal of the tournament.
There seemed little danger when the 22-year-old received the ball with his back to goal, some 30m out.
But one of football's rising stars already knew what he was going to do. Taking the ball on his chest, a quick look at his target, a swivel to adjust his feet and a swing of his left boot later, the ball was in the back of the net. That he took it on the volley made it all the more impressive.
It was a gem that combined the guile of Robin van Persie's diving header against Spain and the sheer power of Tim Cahill's thunderbolt against the Netherlands.
His second, following great work by the excellent wing play of Pablo Armero and Juan Cuadrado, left Rodriguez with a simpler side-foot finish.
"For me, special talents are those who do things that are completely out of the ordinary," said Tabarez, who refused to blame his side's defeat on the absence of Suarez or the distraction the player's biting saga had on the team.
"Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez - they do things because they have certain gifts that make them special."
Rodriguez may have been the star at the Maracana on Saturday, but even he knows the size of the task ahead when his side take on Brazil in Fortaleza on Friday.
Said the tournament's leading scorer: "They're a tough team, they have great players, and they also have their history.
"But we have to go out onto the pitch looking to win, as we've always done."
Rodriguez will no doubt hold the key to upsetting the favourites. But so too will Armero and Cuadrado, whose trickery and speed down the wings will cause Brazil problems as they have been suspect defending their flanks.
But after such an outstanding performance at the spiritual home of Brazilian football, it is Colombia's No. 10 whom the world will watch closely. All hail the new King James in world sport.