Coaches hail Colombia star James Rodriguez after winning display
Colombia are through to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history thanks in no small part to James Rodriguez, whose inspired performance was lauded by coach Jose Pekerman and Uruguay counterpart Oscar Tabarez.
In the build-up to the tournament Los Cafeteros were hit by an injury to star striker Radamel Falcao, yet the 22-year-old has filled the void left by his Monaco team-mate with aplomb.
Rodriguez continued his exquisite form by netting twice in Saturday’s last-16 tie against Uruguay at the Maracana, where he scored arguably the individual goal of the tournament before netting one of the best team efforts in a 2-0 win.
Those goals lifted Rodriguez to the top of the World Cup scoring charts and set up a mouth-watering clash between Colombia and hosts Brazil in Fortaleza next Friday.
"In my long experience in football, I’ve had in my teams extraordinary footballers, elite players of a very high technical level," Pekerman said when asked about Rodriguez, named man-of-the-match for the third time in four matches.
"I place everything in James because I saw the extraordinary conditions that he had.
"What is most surprising is that at his young age he does not have any objection, any problem in being responsible for doing things that football players take many years to understand.
"Football forces you to deal with a lot of situations, you have to handle these situations and we have a technical player who has every attribute of a top-notch player at a world level.
"I greatly praise what he has been doing and I never had any doubts that this was going to be his World Cup. James Rodriguez’s World Cup."
Those comments were echoed by Uruguay coach Tabarez, who believes Rodriguez has been the best player in Brazil.
"For me, talents are those who do things that have nothing to do with their life experience," he said.
"Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez – they do things because they have a certain gift which makes them special.
"It is not up to me but I believe from what I have seen that he is the best player in the World Cup."
Rodriguez’s performance was a large reason as to why Tabarez said it was no shame in losing to Colombia, wishing them luck for their quarter-final against the hosts.
Still, La Celeste’s coach was clearly still frustrated at the absence of all-time top scorer Suarez, whose clinical edge was a big miss in Rio de Janeiro.
Ahead of the match, Tabarez went on a wide-ranging 15-minute rant about his striker’s four-month ban and touched upon the Liverpool striker’s absence again afterwards.
"We all knew about what happened (to Suarez) but we had to stop thinking about that," he said.
"We should only bring out the positive things that could come out of that situation and that generated a lot of strength and willingness to come out with good result.
"Suarez is a very important player, I don’t think I have to say it, but we knew he wasn’t going to play and knew already that he was not going to be close to us due to the punishment imposed on him."
Tabarez was asked again about Suarez towards the end of the post-match press conference, when he seemingly made another dig at English-speaking journalists.
"He is a football player, he was suspended," he added. "He was taken out and the rest is private.
"It is to be kept within the privacy of the group and I don’t want to make it any bigger, particularly with these statements to people who have been after him for a long time."