RIO DE JANEIRO — With a spectacular swivel-and-strike, James Rodriguez provided one of the highlights of the World Cup and gave Brazil reason to worry.
Rodriguez scored one of the best goals of the tournament and added a second to put Colombia into the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time with a 2-0 win over Uruguay on Saturday — setting up a meeting with the host nation.
Rodriguez added to his growing list memorable moments in Brazil when he gave his team the lead with a long-range volley as he turned in the 28th minute. He scored the second from close range shortly after the break as Colombia dominated an Uruguay side that sorely missed banned striker Luis Suarez.
“I think now the toughest is coming up,” Rodriguez said of the quarterfinal match against Brazil. “I’m happy because we are making history and as a young man I dreamed of being here. And of course we want to do even more.”
Rodriguez now has a tournament-leading five goals in Brazil and further enhanced his status as perhaps the World Cup’s biggest revelation. In the absence of injured star Radamel Falcao, the Monaco winger has become the focal point of a Colombia team that won all three of its group games with impressive attacking play.
Uruguay, meanwhile, simply couldn’t find anyone to fill the absence of Suarez. The team struggled badly in attack and replacement striker Diego Forlan was substituted in the 53rd after a disappointing performance in what was likely his final World Cup appearance.
Colombia is playing its first World Cup since 1998 and has already achieved its best-ever result.
“Congratulations to all the Colombian people,” said coach Jose Pekerman, who is from Argentina. “The people in Colombia deserve this.”
Colombia will play Brazil in the quarterfinals on July 4 in Fortaleza after the host nation beat Chile in a penalty shootout earlier Saturday.
But Rodriguez showed once again that the Brazilians have every reason to be wary of Colombia.
The opener was his most spectacular goal yet. He chested the ball down with his back to goal well outside the area and in one fluid motion turned around and fired a left-foot volley that went off the underside of the crossbar and into the net.
It was a goal that came seemingly out of nowhere and provided another example of the technique and creativity that has made Rodriguez one of the standout players of the tournament.
Uruguay defender Alvaro Pereira tried to clear the ball with a diving header, but it went straight to Abel Aguilar, who headed it forward toward Rodriguez.
His maneuver only took a split second and left goalkeeper Fernando Muslera flailing helplessly as the ball looped over him and into the net. Rodriguez ran over the corner flag and thrust both hands out to his sides in a “how about that” gesture.
“I think he is the best player of the tournament so far,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said.
Rodriguez’s second was a perfectly executed team move as Colombia worked the ball over from the right flank to the left, where Pablo Armero sent in a cross that was met by Juan Cuadrado at the far post. Cuadrado headed back across goal toward Rodriguez, who slotted in from just a few yards (meters) out.
This time, the entire team ran over the corner flag for a celebratory dance.
Tabarez tried to respond with a double substitution, taking off Forlan and Alvaro Pereira for Gaston Ramirez and Cristhian Stuani. That livened up the attack, with goalkeeper David Ospina having to make good saves from Cristhian Rodriguez and Maxi Pereira before diving to push away a shot from Edinson Cavani in the 84th.
But in the end Uruguay simply couldn’t cope without Suarez, who was banned for four months for biting an opponent in the group-stage victory against Italy that sent the team through to the next round. Suarez also missed Uruguay’s first game of the tournament, a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, before scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over England.
“We all knew what happened, but we had to forget about it and think positive,” Tabarez said. “Suarez is a great player, and I don’t need to say it. He is very important. But we knew he wasn’t going to play.”