The famous old stories of drug cartels and death threats are usually the go to anecdotes when it comes to talking about anything to do with Colombia at a World Cup. The 1994 campaign in the USA still leaves a very bitter taste in the mouths of the fans draped in yellow and white. That team were supposed to be special, but for reasons well-documented, they were sent packing at the group stage. But now, after 20 years of hurt that put England’s supposed footballing miseries into context, Colombia have a real shot of producing something special. Their wealth of attacking talent is the envy of teams the world over, with the immensely talented James Rodriguez running the show, but his supporting cast are not just there to make up the numbers. Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado is one of the most naturally talented footballers at the tournament. The Viola wide man is as adept at left back as he is out on the right wing, and his assists have been crucial to Colombia’s successes so far. Add to that the talents of Porto’s Jackson Martinez, and not to mention the absence of prolific centre-forward Radamel Falcao, the South American side are proving to be a thrilling and well-rounded attacking outfit. The veteran captain Mario Yepes, playing as though he hasn’t been anything more than average at club level for the past few years, has also performed as well as the men running about in front of him. The Atalanta centre-half has used his experience rather than his legs to keep his opponents under control, and in David Ospina, he has a more than competent goalkeeper to back him up. The plaudits for Colombia in recent days have been vast, and perhaps it is the ‘romance of the cup’ making us all a bit misty eyed, but with a quarter-final against the largely underwhelming Brazllian hosts coming up in 6 days time, it might be time to stick a few pounds on the other boys in yellow.
Even in the minutes leading up to kick-off, the Twitter accounts of some Uruguayan national team players were throwing out photos of Luis Suarez’s shirt hanging heroically in the dressing room as if it were the Shroud of Turin. And even when Oscar Tabarez fronted up to the media with the chance to steer focus towards his side’s increasingly impressive form, he took the opportunity to conduct what was less of a Q&A and more of a pre-planned doctrine designed only to whip up conspiracy theories, in a flamboyant pre-match performance that J-Lo and Pitbull would have been proud of. Perhaps Tabarez and his men would have been better served had they just got on with the job in hand, and focussed on how to beat Colombia, rather than looking for excuses as to why they would lose before a ball had been kicked. And as it turned out, Colombia were better, and better by some margin. Colombia had arrived with a game plan and a very obvious hunger to win (epitomised by another stirring rendition of the national anthem), and amidst a week that saw the focus heavily on Suarez’s on field antics, their opponents Uruguay looked preoccupied, without a plan, and without a real will to take the game to their opponents until they had little chance of turning things around. During that now infamous press conference, Tabarez defended Suarez vehemently, stating that Suarez was only playing the Uruguayan way: winning at all costs. Well then perhaps the manager should take a look at himself, and ponder what exactly it means to play the ‘Uruguayan way’, because whatever that is, his side’s somewhat lacklustre round of 16 defeat was certainly not it.
Before the World Cup, the focus was on the big names of European football. Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, and Robben were but a few touted to set the world stage alight, and have undoubtedly done so, but there is one young player who has announced himself as a contender for the golden ball. As if scoring in every group game wasn’t enough, Rodriguez continued to affirm his status as one world football’s brightest young talents with a quite sensational performance against Uruguay. His touch and finish for the first goal were so good that they might as well just hand over January’s Puskas award to the 22-year-old now. His second, a well worked team effort, was something that has epitomised Colombia’s scintillating attacking play throughout the tournament. But it wasn’t just his goals that did the damage to his South American rivals. His speed of thought makes him one of the most unpredictable players with the ball in front of him, and it was painfully evident that the Uruguayan defenders were absolutely terrified at the very sight of him.
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