James Rodriguez scores, leads Los Cafeteros; Uruguay will play without Luis Suarez.
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Carlos Valderrama’s ghost — you know, those guys with the unkempt orange wigs– danced in the bleachers Tuesday at Arena Pantanal in the central Brazilian city of Cuiabá.
Valderrama, the most capped player in Colombia soccer history with 111 appearances between 1985-98, represents the good ol’ days for the national team. And it’s an apt comparison.
Colombia not only won Group C, but advances to the round of 16 where it will face rival Uruguay Saturday at Estadio do Maracana in Rio De Janeiro (4 p.m. ET, ABC-TV).
Not since Valderrama’s hay day has Colombian fútbol been as relevant on the world’s grandest stage. Colombia has qualified for just three of the last 12 World Cups, all between 1990-98. And the last time Los Cafeteros reached the round of 16 was in Italy in 1990. But that team went just 1-1-1 before falling to Cameroon.
These Los Cafeteros are far more explosive and dangerous on the offensive end thanks to the breakout star of the World Cup’s first two weeks: James Rodriguez.
“Colombia is easily the most exciting team at this World Cup,”
ESPN announcer Taylor Twellman said during
Colombia’s offensive showcase against Japan.
The play-by-play team of Twellman and Daniel Mann gushed over Rodriguez, who scored in each game and finished the group stage with three goals and two assists.
No less an authority than Valderrama himself called Rodriguez a star for the next decade. “For a long time in Colombia they have been looking for the next Carlos Valderrama and they’ve now finally found who that player is,” Valderrama said of Rodriguez, according to The Telegraph.
Yet as talented as the 22-year-old midfielder has proven to be in Brazil (Rodriguez even wears Valderrama’s No. 10 jersey), Colombia faces and even more skilled finisher in Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. Fate is on Colombia’s side. In it’s 1-0 win over Italy, Suarez was accused of biting defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder, his third such incident on the soccer pitch.
The result was a suspension for Suarez after FIFA announced Wednesday that it was investigating the collision, which did not result in any on-field discipline.
After downing Greece 3-0 and outlasting Ivory Coast 2-1, Colombia broke open a tense affair in Game 3 with the first of two Jackson Martinez goals in the 55th minute to give Los Cafeteros a 2-1 lead. Despite being outshot by Japan 23-13, Colombia rolled.Give credit to Colombian Coach José Pékerman, who also directed Argentina’s 2006 World Cup quarterfinal run. He’s known as a tactician and he’s seen success employing a 4-2-3-1 formation for Colombia.
Now Uruguay, 2-1 in Group D after gritty wins over England and Italy, awaits. Without Suarez on the pitch, Uruguay loses some offensive bite. But Uruguay handed Colombia a 2-0 loss during a World Cup qualifier in 2013.
There’s little doubt World Cups past still haunt Colombians. Andrés Escobar’s own goal against the U.S. in 1994 — and his violent death later that summer — was the country’s nadir. But when goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón, 43, a holdover from 1994 and 1998 World Cup teams, entered the game against Japan Tuesday, he became the oldest player to ever appear in a World Cup game.
Mondragón’s staying power was a nod to Colombia’s golden generation. Twenty-four years after Colombia’s last trip to the round of 16, Los Cafeteros can dance with the devil once more.
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