World Cup 2014: James Rodriguez joins the perfect 10s

 

From Rio

The Maracana's iconic sweep of concrete stands may have been replaced by an identikit modern arena - but Colombia's James Rodriguez produced a moment to stir all of the old place's ghosts.

If there is one stadium in this sport that is the natural home to great goals by number 10s in yellow, it is the Maracana, arguably more soulless now but still the scene of glorious memories provided by Pele, Zico and now Brazil's great hope of this World Cup, Neymar.

And 28 minutes into the last-16 game between Colombia and Uruguay, the new poster boy of South American football - and this tournament - put himself alongside Neymar and Argentina's Lionel Messi with a goal to treasure, and one fit for the Maracana.

World Cup 2014: Colombia 2-0 Uruguay highlights

The 22-year-old showed great awareness to glance over his shoulder to check the positioning of both himself and Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera even before Abel Aguilar's header came in his direction.

Then came the technique, cushioning the header on his chest while twisting to set up a glorious 25-yard left-foot volley that lost nothing aesthetically by crashing down into the net off the bar.

If Rodriguez had hinted at his potential greatness with goals against Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan in the group stage, this was the moment he joined those other perfect 10s in the World Cup - Messi and Neymar.

He had a Colombian legend to live up to when he took on the mantle of the number 10 - the flamboyant Carlos 'El Pibe' Valderrama, he of the wild hair and glorious talent.

No matter. 'El Nuevo Pibe' - 'The New Kid' - had arrived.

Carlos Valderrama

Carlos Valderrama made 111 appearances for Colombia between 1985 and 1998

And his arrival made the Maracana forget the man who was not here - Uruguay's Luis Suarez - and his lamentable explanation of how he came to bite Giorgio Chiellini, with both him and his teeth apparently stumbling accidentally into the Italian's shoulder after a loss of balance.

Suarez was present in spirit as Uruguay's fans rose to the siege mentality created by coach Oscar Tabarez with masks, flags and a noisy show of support. The bottom line, however, is after their questionable defence of Suarez in recent days, Uruguay's departure may not be mourned by too many in Brazil outside their own camp.

In some ways, the evidence presented here showed why they were prepared to erect such a dubious apologist shield around Suarez. Without him, they are a shadow of the side they are with him.

Instead, and of a far more savoury nature, the Maracana was the playground of a new world star - and someone who presents a real danger to Brazil when they meet Colombia in their quarter-final in Fortaleza on Friday.

James Rodriguez facts

Born on 12 July 1991 in Cucuta, Colombia

Began career at Envigado, joined Argentine club Banfield in 2009 and moved to Europe with Porto the following year

Won the Portuguese Golden Ball in 2012 aged 20 - the youngest player to do so

Had won three successive league titles with Porto by the age of 21

Moved to Monaco for £38.5m in 2013, making him the second-most expensive Colombian in history, after Radamel Falcao

Rodriguez is now the World Cup's top scorer with five goals. While Suarez is back in Uruguay in shame, the smiling Colombian is the fresh and acceptable face of this tournament - and with power to add to his reputation.

Rodriguez could pass for Cristiano Ronaldo's younger brother. He is clean-cut, respectful and was quietly spoken as he dealt with Colombia's adulation after the game.

In the absence of the great goalscorer Radamel Falcao, cruelly deprived of this World Cup by injury, Monaco team-mate Rodriguez was left with a burden he has so far carried with ease.

Jose Luis Alarcon Rojas, of Colombia's RCNR Radio, said: "Once Falcao was injured, James Rodriguez was the first name in coach Jose Pekerman's selection. He is a young boy who is loved in Colombia, a star.

"No Falcao meant he was more important to Colombia and he has responded to the responsibility. He was always popular but this will make him more popular."

And what of his meeting with Neymar in Fortaleza?

"Neymar is the young champion of Brazil while James is the young champion of Colombia, but he is our star and he is playing like our star."

The boy from Cucuta started his career with Envigado in Colombia before, at the tender age of 17, his talent took him to Argentina and Banfield.

Rodriguez at the 2014 World Cup

Rodriguez is the first player to score in the first four games of a World Cup since Brazil's Ronaldo and Rivaldo in 2002.

Rodriguez is also the first player to score in each of his first four World Cup games since Italy's Christian Vieri in 1998.

After winning the Primera Division, he moved to Porto, helping them secure three titles and the Europa League.

Last summer he joined Monaco for £38.5m, but goals like those against Uruguay, and his second was also a thing of beauty in a team context, will be attracting the attention of others who may wish to prise him away from the Principality.

When he was told Tabarez had mentioned his name in a list that included Argentina great Diego Maradona, Messi and Suarez, he said: "It is always a matter of great pride that someone like him has said these things. All I want to do is help the team."

A player of balance, nurtured by the wise Pekerman, who has placed great trust in him, he has the ability to contribute to the team ethic, as proved by his second goal, while demonstrating great individual virtuosity.

As his goal was replayed on the Maracana's big screens, gasps of appreciation swirled around the stadium. It was his shirt and his name that could be seen and heard as elated Colombians celebrated in the streets snaking away from the Copacabana on Saturday night.

Colombia may have lived in the shadow of the South American superpowers such as Brazil and Argentina in the past. In Rodriguez they have a player who can help them step into the light - starting in Fortaleza on Friday.

James Rodriguez

James Rodriguez celebrates his goal against Uruguay