James Rodriguez brought flair and inspiration to Colombia, says Mark Siglioccolo, and deservedly topped the World Cup scoring charts.
With Radamel Falcao's anterior cruciate ligament damage ruling him out of Jose Pekerman's squad at the 2014 World Cup, Colombia went from much fancied to not much hope at all.
Few people would have predicted what would happen in Brazil, and yet the signs were there. James Rodriguez, just 22-years young when the tournament kicked off, entered having scored the same number of League goals as Falcao last season. The versatile attacking midfielder matched the nine strikes of his crocked Monaco colleague, even if Falcao would likely have added to his tally had he not been injured in January.
But in then taking his place as his country’s attacking fulcrum this summer, Rodriguez beat odds of 100-1 and pre tournament favourites such as South Africa’s Golden Boot Thomas Muller, eventual 2014 Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi, Brazil's ‘golden boy’ Neymar and the always hungry Luis Suarez.
With six strikes in five appearances, the talented youngster pipped Muller by one, even if his last proved to be only a mere consolation penalty in quarter-final elimination to Brazil.
James’ account opened when Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado back heeled the ball in the penalty area for him to calmly slide past a calamitous Greek defence, on the South Americans’ way to securing an emphatic 3-0 win. The No 10 then opened the scoring with a curling header against Ivory Coast, which was too hot for Boubacar Barry to handle. Then against Japan, Rodriguez ran the show. Clearly his confidence was growing as he twice assisted Jackson Martinez before putting the icing on the cake with a sublime solo effort. His mazy dribble into the box and cool chip over Eiji Kawashima was reminiscent of Argentine maestros past and present.
Not just a goal scorer then, but a scorer of the spectacular and against a toothless Uruguay he produced what was undeniably the goal of the tournament. Controlling the ball a yard from the edge of the D, with his shoulder no less, Rodriguez measured the flight as it dropped and hit one of the sweetest of volleys to ever grace a World Cup. The power and swerve produced by his left foot, from which he scored four of his six goals, was truly unbelievable. No goalkeeper in the world would have stopped that and in the second half he added a second, this time a close range right footed volley from a fantastic nod down by Cuadrado.
Six goals in five games is an incredible achievement but with Rodriguez unable to add to his tally beyond the Last eight, Muller and Messi had a two game advantage to equal that benchmark. On four goals apiece heading into their semi-finals, Muller opened the scoring in what proved to be the first of seven in a total schooling of Luiz Felipe Scolari's men. Messi was shackled against Holland and both were kept quiet in the final, but the Argentine No 10 did have a great chance to find the net. Ultimately, though, it proved to be James Rodriguez’s tally that topped the scoring charts in Brazil.
Just turned 23 at the close of the tournament and rightly attracting the attention of Real Madrid and Barcelona, the youngster watched the World Cup Final with friends and family. Wearing a yellow cap with '10' printed on and celebrating once he knew he had won the Golden Boot, James left a mark on Brazil ’14 that not only he will remember for years to come.