This feature is part of Virtuoso
The story of James Rodríguez’s career following the 2014 World Cup is an intriguing one. It’s a tale of an incredible talent ravaged by injury but still showered with trophies, cast to the side by some but always eventually getting his glittering moments in the brightest of spotlights. This narrative has seen amazement, disappointment, hope, joy and despair intertwined so intricately that, at times, it has become difficult to distinguish how to feel about the fresh-faced midfielder, even if his talent is never in question.
However, this unforgettable performance preceded all of that. It came four years before he sat injured on the bench in Moscow as England beat Colombia on penalties; three years before he was sent on a two-year loan to Bayern Munich and scored against his parent club; two years before he won the first of his two Champions League trophies; 24 days before he became a Galáctico and the fourth most expensive player in history; six days before he was comforted by David Luiz and Dani Alves as he cried having crashed out of the World Cup.
This was James Rodríguez in inspired, unstoppable form, guiding Colombia past Uruguay. There was nothing but awe and adoration for one of the best individual performances the World Cup, world football, for that matter, has ever seen.
Prior to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, there were plenty of people who knew much about the qualities of James Rodríguez. He’d already impressed for Porto and Monaco in the Primeira Liga and Ligue 1, as well as in European competition. However, it was his form on the world’s biggest stage that forced his name into the football stratosphere.
By the time Colombia came up against Uruguay in the round of 16, James had already earned plenty of plaudits. He’d scored in all three of Colombia’s group matches, as his country breezed past Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. Nothing he had yet produced came close to his performance in Rio de Janeiro against the Uruguayans, though. With Colombia’s Falcao out through injury, and Luis Suárez banned after biting Giorgio Chiellini, this was truly James’ stage to own.
There had been fears that the game could become anti-climatic following the heated off-field debate following Suárez’s suspension, and those concerns were further induced in the opening exchanges. However, with 28 minutes on the clock, the 22-year-old brought the night’s proceedings to life. Abel Aguilar’s misplaced clipped ball had been headed away by Álvaro Pereira. However, the Colombian midfielder, whose pass had gone astray, got to the loose ball first and cushioned it towards James with his head.
As the ball approached him, 25 yards out, Rodríguez was surrounded by five Uruguayans. Teófilo Gutiérrez was making a run off a defender’s shoulder but it was unlikely he could be found from this position. He could try to return the ball to Aguilar but that ball would probably be intercepted. It seemed as though there was nothing he could do. He somehow discovered his route to goal with the quickest of looks over his shoulder, spotting that Diego Godín was just far enough to give him time to produce something special if he executed it perfectly.
Rodríguez swivelled his body and puffed out his chest in one elegant yet powerful motion. With his eyes firmly set on the ball, he lashed his left foot through it. No bounce, no second touch, just pure decisive brilliance. The ball flew through the air and seductively brushed past Fernando Muslera’s outstretched fingertips. Resistance was futile; this wasn’t being stopped.
It cannoned off the underside of the bar, over the line and back into the roof of the net for all the aesthetic pleasure this magnificent strike deserved. Godín and his teammates looked at the ball hopelessly as James ran towards the corner flag wagging his fingers, before his teammates joined in with a celebratory dance. He completed the celebrations by gratefully pointing to the sky.
Uruguay were posing a threat of their own though and gave the Colombians a few reminders that no matter how glorious their number 10’s goal was, it hadn’t confirmed victory. Edinson Cavani hit a free-kick from just outside the box which whistled inches over the bar, while David Ospina was forced into an impressive save when Álvaro González hit a powerful half-volley. José Pékerman would surely have said something along these lines during the half-time break. If he did, then his players certainly listened.
While Colombia’s first goal of the game had been a moment of individual brilliance, the second was the depiction of the team’s work ethic and collective talent. Gutiérrez passed the ball to Jackson Martínez who then cushioned it away from his marker and played it out wide to Pablo Armero. The Colombian left-back took a touch out of his feet before crossing towards the back post. Juan Cuadrado leapt through the air to get his head onto the ball. The winger could have gone for goal, but instead he opted to direct the ball back across goal, where James was waiting to pounce, as he side-footed the ball through Godín’s legs and into the back of the net.
James was keen to give the credit to Cuadrado during the ensuing celebrations. Though, as the whole team pointed at the sky to thank God, there was a feeling this goal was representative of their fortunes in this match and those that had come before it during this World Cup.
By no stretch of the imagination was this a one-man team; Colombia possessed quality from back to front. James, though, was the player with the incredible star quality who had allowed them to get to this point. It takes a special player to unlock an Óscar Tabárez-managed Uruguayan defence and that is exactly what he did.
In the 85th minute, James was brought off for Adrián Ramos and received an incredible standing ovation from the crowd. As the final whistle blew shortly after, he was the man everybody wanted to congratulate. He walked onto the pitch with a steeliness that implied was already looking ahead to the next round, but his joy couldn’t be concealed as he hugged his teammates and then his manager.
His exploits in this match earned him the Puskás Award for the goal of the year, helped him towards the tournament’s Golden Boot, and rubber-stamped a place in the World Cup team of the tournament; but none of this seems enough to encapsulate James’ brilliance. This, one of the World Cup’s greatest ever performances, has ensured the name James Rodríguez will be placed among Colombia’s greatest for eternity.
By Danny Lewis @DannyLewis_95
Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp