James Rodriguez of Monaco produced a sublime second half performance, with two assists and a goal, to send Colombia through to the last 16 of the World Cup for the first time since 1990, after defeating Japan 4-1 to finish top of their group.
The 21-year-old started the game on the bench, with head coach Jesse Peckerman deciding to rest some of the team who have not dropped a point yet. However, the team didn’t look the same powerful squad that had eased their way past Greece and Ivory Coast.
Rodriguez was one of the changes made at half time, with Colombia being held 1-1 by the Japanese who had created better opportunities in the first half. The youngster had an immediate effect, and started dictating the Colombian play. As soon as he came onto the field, the Colombian side looked completely different from the first half.
After only being on the field for ten minutes, Rodriguez fooled the defence, shaping up to shot before laying a deft little pass to his left which found Jackson Martinez unmarked. Martinez slotted the ball past Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima to score his first competitive international goal in five years.
In the 82nd minute of the game, Jackson Martinez scored his second goal of the night after more great play from Rodriguez. The Monaco midfielder found space in the middle of midfield after the Japanese had been pushing up the field, looking for the equaliser. Rodriguez’s pass slipped between four Japanese defenders into the path of the Porto striker. Martinez cut the ball back onto his left foot before curling a beautiful shot past Kawashima to end Japan’s hopes of making the next round.
Rodriguez completed the remarkable second half master class with a chipped finish over the onrushing keeper. Martinez received the ball from Rodriguez, once again catching the Japanese on the counter attack, before the Porto striker fed the ball into the overlapping Rodriguez, who turned the defender one way before cutting back the other before lifting the ball over the keeper to make Colombia the second top scorers of the competition, behind the Netherlands.
David Ospina, the Nice goalkeeper, made his third appearance in the tournament against the Japanese. He was kept busier than he was against Greece and Ivory Coast, having to make several saves to keep Colombia in the game in the first half.
He was narrowly beaten by the header by Shinji Okazaki which levelled the game on the stroke of half time, cancelling out Juan Cuadrado’s early penalty. Ospina was substituted in the last few minutes of the game, being replaced by Faryd Mondragon, who at the age of 43 became the oldest ever player to play in a World Cup game, taking the achievement from Roger Milla of Cameroon.
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