Rodriguez lifts Colombia again
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Three thoughts from Colombia's 2-0 win over South American rivals Uruguay.
1. Colombia continue to rise
By the end, there was only one brilliant star really worth mentioning. Because if the buildup to this game was dominated by one issue, the contest itself was decided and illuminated by one man. James Rodriguez provided a truly memorable World Cup moment and ensured everyone else can begin to forget about an awfully unsavoury controversy.
Colombia, meanwhile, can finally forget about a history of difficulty in this tournament. They have reached the quarterfinals for the first time ever and have also offered a glimpse of the future: their perfect No. 10. Rodriguez now faces off against one of the other stars, Neymar, in a game against Brazil that should be eagerly anticipated.
Colombia certainly won't fear the hosts; not on the evidence of this sensational World Cup Saturday. It should also be a game in which both teams are willing to attack; that was never going to be the case with Uruguay.
In the end, the intensity of their rage about the Luis Suarez incident was not matched by the intensity of their performance on the pitch. They ran out of ideas and then ran out of steam. There was no siege mentality; Rodriguez blew them away.
2. James takes the stage once more
After so much prematch sound and fury, this game only saw the sublime and the fantastic. James Rodriguez had already arrived at this World Cup and delivered for his side once more. Although Luis Suarez might have been missing, the Maracana didn't want his type of mercurial brilliance. Rodriguez provided so much of it, except with none of the torrid malice.
It is also the precise context of Suarez's suspension that makes the Colombian's brilliant impact all the more important and all the more impressive. It completely destroyed Uruguay in so many ways. Because, as a consequence of Suarez's suspension, manager Oscar Tabarez basically only had one way to play. All Uruguay could do was dig in, dig deep and then wait for an error.
Initially, it looked as though that would work perfectly; that they would disrupt yet another attacking side and also such an adventurous World Cup. Colombia were already getting frustrated. They needed something. Rodriguez offered so much more than they could have expected.
On 28 minutes, the ball ricocheted into the air just outside the Colombian box, after some typically abrasive tackling. Rodriguez stood up, chested it up, turned and -- without the ball hitting the ground -- divinely volleyed it in off the crossbar. It was possibly the goal of the World Cup, by one of the players of the World Cup. At a crucial point, he had offered pure quality.
Not long after, he added to the quantity of his goals. Rodriguez slotted in from Juan Cuadrado's clever header, bringing his tally to the tournament to five. The Monaco forward is temporarily the top scorer. There appears nothing temporary, however, about his time in the global spotlight.
3. Suarez a big miss as Uruguay join him
Uruguay attempted to reduce the game to the slimmest margins, but there was ultimately no getting around the huge gulf in attacking quality. The signs were there early on. Shortly before Rodriguez hit the fantastic strike that completely decided the game, Edinson Cavani was offered a much easier opportunity. A long ball was pinged forward from their central defence, setting up the kind of opportunity that the striker used to easily finish at Napoli. Instead, displaying so much more of his Paris Saint-Germain form, he meekly hit the ball wide.
It was in stark contrast to the aggression his defensive teammates showed, but also that lesser level of performance that meant Uruguay had to play that way. Unable to bank on someone like Suarez, they had to simply sit and hope for the best. So, when it was rumbled, they had basically nothing else to offer.
This was the fundamental risk with this type of game plan, the deepest consequence of Suarez's suspension. You can do everything to minimise the effects of things inside your control, as Tabarez has more than proved in the past, but there's no legislating for genius like Rodriguez's.
Of course, Uruguay might have had something to counter him with had Suarez not had one moment of madness against Italy. Here, he and Uruguay have only themselves to blame. Regardless of the endless debate over his ban, he was always going to be suspended, and it is partly because of that incident that Uruguay's World Cup has now fallen silent. They are out, sent home with their controversial star.
Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.