James Rodriguez confirmed his status as the World Cup’s newest star with a virtuoso display as Colombia took advantage of Luis Suarez’s absence to beat Uruguay in Rio.
As the controversial Liverpool striker watched back in Uruguay after being banned for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, 22-year-old Rodriguez elevated his name alongside Brazil hero Neymar and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi.
Suarez had been crucial to Uruguay’s progress to the last 16 but Oscar Tabarez’s side were struggling against the odds once Fifa imposed a nine-match international ban and four-month suspension from all football-related activity on their star striker.
If one superstar had left the stage, another has emerged as Monaco’s Rodriguez volleyed arguably the goal of the tournament in the first half then crowned a superb team move for the second.
In the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao, the boyish Rodriguez has become Colombia’s new pin-up and is making his mark on the global stage as the tournament’s current top-scorer with five goals.
His side will now meet hosts Brazil in the quarter-final in Fortaleza on Friday – and have shown they have the capacity to wreck the hopes of this football-mad nation.
He may not have been inside the Maracana but Suarez was here in spirit as Uruguay fans showed solidarity with the shamed striker, sporting masks, brandishing flags of support and ensuring the game kicked off to the sound of his name.
But for all Tabarez’s bold talk of using a perceived injustice to inspire his team, they never coped without Suarez’s brilliance and Colombia’s victory was thoroughly merited.
After the heat of the off-field debate, the game itself was actually threatening an anti-climax until the magical intervention of Rodriguez before the half-hour delivered yet another moment to illuminate this World Cup.
Rodriguez was aware enough to glance over his shoulder and check his own position and that of Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera before cushioning a header on his chest and striking a stunning 25-yard left-foot volley in off the bar.
It was the most perfect combination of technique and talent, drawing gasps from around this iconic stadium when it was replayed on the four giant screens that hang from the roof of the vast bowl.
If his first goal was a testimony to his individual ability, the second five minutes after half-time was an illustration of Colombia’s combination of talent and teamwork.
After a period of possession, Pablo Armero’s cross found Juan Cuadrado, who showed great athleticism to guide his header into the path of Rodriguez, who made no mistake from eight yards.
Uruguay responded but their World Cup was over the horizon – although Maximiliano Pereira and Edinson Cavani forced fine saves from Colombia keeper David Ospina.
Rodriguez was removed in the closing minutes to conserve energy for the meeting with Brazil. He will pose a serious threat to Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side – as will a highly impressive Colombia.