James Rodriguez and Colombia continue to excite
Monaco playmaker came off the bench to assist two and score one as Japan bow out
Juan Cuadrado (right) of Colombia celebrates with his teammates after scoring a penalty at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba. Photograph: EPA
James Rodriguez of Colombia chips his team’s fourth goal against Japan at Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba. Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images
On a night of contrasting emotions in Cuiabá, Colombia marched into the second round as group winners with a third victory in 11 days – as many as they had managed in their previous four World Cup appearances – and condemned Japan to an early exit that represents a huge disappointment for Asia, Alberto Zaccheroni and his players.
Having arrived at the World Cup with hopes of reaching the quarter-finals – progress from the group stage was almost taken for granted – Japan have departed with only two goals and one point to show for their efforts. The fact that their elimination was confirmed at the hands of what was effectively Colombia’s reserves rubbed salt into the wound.
Two goals from Jackson Martínez, the prolific Porto striker, after Juan Guillermo Cuadrado’s early penalty kick, secured top spot and a meeting with Uruguay at the Maracanã on Saturday. The biggest cheer of the evening, however, was reserved for Faryd Mondragón, Colombia’s 43-year-old second-choice goalkeeper, who became the oldest player to feature in a World Cup match when he was brought on with five minutes remaining.
It was left to James Rodríguez to complete a glorious night for Colombia with a wonderful chip in the 89th minute for his third goal in as many games. Colombia, on this evidence, will take some stopping.
José Pékerman never likes to think too far ahead but this fixture was an exception to the rule. With Colombia already assured of their place in the last 16, the Colombia manager saw no reason to put out a full-strength team and risk injuries. He made eight changes from the side that beat Ivory Coast, with only the goalkeeper, David Ospina, the West Ham United left-back, Pablo Amero, and the Fiorentina winger, Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, retaining their place. It was still, however, a strong Colombia team, featuring Martínez, the leading scorer in Portugal last season, and Adrián Ramos, who has joined Borussia Dortmund as a replacement for Robert Lewandowski. Those two were always likely to cause Japan problems and so it proved when they combined in the lead up to the opening goal.
Martínez picked up the ball just inside the Japan half and released Ramos in the inside left channel. Ramos was running away from goal at the time and offered no immediate threat to the Japan goal, but Yasuyuki Konno could not resist having a nibble. His challenge was needless, and poorly timed, and left Pedro Proença, the Portuguese referee, with no option but to point to the spot. Cuadrado converted emphatically and we were treated to the latest choreographed Colombia goal celebration.
Japan were dominating possession – as was the case in their previous two games – but offering little in the way of penetration. Yoshito Okubo, twisting and turning on the edge of the area, saw his shot blocked and Keisuke Honda was unlucky with a whipped left-footed free-kick – the less said about his previous two set-piece efforts the better – that skipped past Ospina’s far upright.
Colombia, as ever, were happy to sit deep and break with alacrity. They should have doubled their lead three minutes before the interval but Martínez, after Santiago Arias and Ramos combined neatly on the right, dragged wide from 10 yards with the goal yawning invitingly in front of him. It was a bad miss and became more significant moments later. Honda, on whom so much depends for Japan, cut back onto his left foot and swung in a cross towards the near post. The ball was slightly behind Shinji Okazaki but he did well to get in front of his marker, Carlos Valdés, and steer a twisting header inside the near post.
That was the last action of the first half and ought to have given Japan a huge lift, but it was Colombia who struck again. Rodríguez, on for Juan Fernando Quintero, had delivered a delicious free-kick moments earlier that somehow eluded a line of Colombian players. His next contribution was more gratefully accepted. Receiving the ball on the edge of the area from Santiago Arias, Rodríguez could easily have shot but instead showed superb awareness to flick the ball with the outside of his boot into the path of Jackson Martínez. This time the striker made no mistake. Japan pressed for a second equaliser but the game was up for them when Martinez coolly curled into the far corner after a sublime reverse pass from Rodríguez. The Monaco playmaker then delivered the coup de grace when he dinked the ball over Eiji Kawashima.