The midfielder scored both goals as Jose Pekerman’s side booked a quarter-final clash against Brazil with a 2-0 win over Uruguay at the Maracana on Saturday
By Greg Stobart at the Estadio Maracana
This was billed as the clash between two teams missing their star players on a stage made for special talents.
Yet James Rodriguez made sure that this last-16 clash still showcased one of the world’s best and it is hard to conceive that Luis Suarez or Radamel Falcao could possibly have made a greater impact.
James is so baby-faced that he looks like he should still be at school, but the 22-year-old was the man among the boys as he sunk Uruguay to book Colombia’s place in the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
He has been arguably the man of the tournament so far and his double here means he tops the scoring charts with five goals while he also has two assists to his name.
Brazil are in his sights now. And he has given the hosts something to fear ahead of their last-eight clash in Fortaleza on Friday.
The first goal was special, the best of the World Cup so far.
He had no right to score, particularly in the context of 28 minutes of dour, attritional football up to that point.
But James controlled Juan Cuadrado’s headed pass with his chest, swivelled like a ballet dancer and struck a perfect left-footed volley in off the crossbar from 25 yards.
It was jaw-dropping. If the atmosphere was not loud enough already – Colombia fans vastly outnumbered those from Uruguay – the noise level was deafening as he jigged by the corner flag with his team-mates.
Five minutes after the restart, Rodriguez was on hand with a poacher’s finish from close range, again after an intelligent contribution from Cuadrado when he headed across goal.
All the talk in the build up to the match focused on the four-month ban given to Suarez but the Uruguay striker’s standing as a national hero has clearly not been affected by his bite on Giorgio Chiellini.
Celeste supporters chanted Suarez’s name and wore masks representing his face, clearly feeling that Uruguay had been the victims of an injustice over the severity of the suspension.
If Suarez had been here, he might have given Colombia some attacking thrust and caused them problems.
Instead, Uruguay were listless going forward and Suarez had to watch from his living room in Montevideo as James stole the show.
He has been so good that the absence through injury of Falcao, one of the best strikers on the planet, has barely been noticed.
James can become a Colombia legend over the next decade. He is already their all-time leading scorer in the World Cup and has netted seven times in his last six international fixtures.
And with all eyes on the World Cup, there will be plenty of discussions in European boardrooms about how to get him out of Monaco.
Rodriguez has shown in this tournament that he has the talent and the mental strength to play for one of Europe’s big guns, that he could fit in any side whether it’s Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Manchester United.
At 22, he has taken on the pressure of spearheading a nation whose previous best World Cup performance was a last-16 defeat to Cameroon in 1990.
His name was cheered loudest of all before kick-off and he received a standing ovation from all sides of this famous stadium when he was substituted five minutes from time.
If he carries on this form, Brazil will be next. And then, who knows? Perhaps Colombia and James could even find themselves back at the Maracana for the final on July 13.