Colombia beat Uruguay 2-0 Saturday on the back of a James Rogriguez brace, securing “Los Cafeteros'” first ever berth to the World Cup quarter finals.
Playing in the most iconic stadium in international soccer — Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana — on international soccer’s biggest stage, in its first elimination round appearance since Italy 1990, Colombia put in its best performance yet of an undefeated tournament run. This was a game decades in the making, and a display of two-way soccer that more than lived up to the moment.
James Rodriguez shone, David Ospina shone, “Professor” Jose Nestor Pekerman’s System shone, and Colombian soccer overall was downright brilliant.
The big pre-game change was the much-awaited inclusion of Jackson “Cha Cha Cha” Martinez in the starting lineup.
It would be unfair to say that Martinez had fallen out of favor with head coach Jose Nestor Pekerman, because that would imply that he had ever been given much of a chance. But a brace Tuesday against Japan was apparently enough to prove what many already understood: namely, that with Radamel Falcao sidelined with a knee injury, Martinez is the most potent goal-scoring weapon on a ridiculously spoiled Colombian roster.
It’s a shame that Martinez’s spot came at the expense of Victor Ibarbo’s rather than Teo “Why ?” Gutierrez’s, but Teo plays better away from goal, anyway, and the two-striker set was a statement of intent for Pekerman’s side.
Jackson’s presence had an immediate effect, giving Colombia a legitimate aerial threat to throw in on the other end of all those James Rodriguez lasers. In the end, though, the lasers were enough.
In the 28′, James took a chip on his chest just outside the box and turned on it with a gravity-bending plasma cannon of a volley. The best player of the World Cup so far sent the best shot of the tournament sliding menacingly down off the bottom of the crossbar.
Fernando Muslera got a fingertip to it, but he might as well not have, for all the good it did him. With a wicked ricochet off the post, James joined another treacherous lefty, Lionel Messi, atop the World Cup goal-scorers table, with four notches on the tournament.
Uruguay would approach goal twice — first in the 33′, on a free kick gifted to Edinson Cavani by “Not Very” Abel Aguilar, and later in the 39′, when a volley following a corner kick scramble would require a diving save from David Ospina — but Colombia was more than equal to the uptake in tempo, and if anything, “Los Cafeteros” had the best of the last 15 minutes of a half they had thoroughly dominated since the beginning.
The second half started with a reaffirmation of everything Colombia has been building toward in three years of preparation for Brazil, 16 years of waiting for the World Cup, and 24 years outside the elimination rounds.
Colombia won the ball in the midfield and Teofilo Gutierrez laid a ball across the top of the box to Jackson Martinez, who turned on his right foot and played Pablo Armero into space down the left. Armero ran onto the ball and sent in a one-time cross to the far post, where Juan Guillermo Cuadrado came charging in for the header, centering the ball to James Rodriguez for the decisive volley.
Rodriguez has been everything for this Colombia team; the team, for its part, has done everything it’s needed to around him. The first goal was a masterpiece of individual artistry. The second, the most dynamic manifestation yet of a team that defends together with force, attacks together with venom, and has been running through this tournament together since the opening whistle two weeks ago.
Uruguay found some semblance of offense following the second goal, but in the context of the most complete game yet for a team that has yet to turn in anything but, the chances did more to ensure Ospina didn’t feel left out than to actually threaten the Colombian net.
The “Yellow Stain” was flooding the Maracana before the game even started, and for the fourth time since the start of the tournament, Colombia showed the world how to dance, one step at a time.