by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 24th 2014)
With qualification secure Colombiaʼs first foreign coach for 30 years José Pékerman Krimen rested players, including Monacoʼs star in the making James Rodríguez Rubio, but fortunately Radamel Falcao García Zárateʼs heir apparent did not remain watching. His goal Colombiaʼs last in an emphatic 4-1 win over Alberto Zaccheroniʼs Japan was easily the pick of the bunch.
Jackson Martínez, one of the replacements certainly didnʼt short-change the fans. His through pass to striker Adrián Ramos Vásquez led to a penalty when the Hertha BSC striker was brought down by Gamba Osakaʼs Yasuyuki Konno. The defender was booked and Fiorentinaʼs influential winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello scored the spot-kick.
Sandwiched between Cuadradoʼs penalty and Rodríguezʼ magnificent finale was a Martínez brace and Japanʼs solitary strike. On the stroke of half time Keisuke Hondaʼs cross was headed past OGC Niceʼs David Ospina Ramírez by Shinji Okazaki. Colombia upped the ante in the second and deservedly took control as Japan became more and more resigned to defeat.
Colombia is the only team so far to go through, having won all of their group matches. They did so in considerable style too. Having made their own history – they had never won two matces in a row prior to this World Cup, they have now won three, but Pékerman showed that there is room for sentiment in football too.
With the match won Pékerman decided that a Colombian legend deserved to make new World Cup history. Camerounʼs Roger Milla set his record in 1990, embarrassing the eccentric, but always entertaining Colombian goal-keeper René Higuita Zapata in the process. Milla made Higuita look foolish when he caught the keeper in possession to leave the goal exposed. Milla and Cameroun reached the quarter-final becoming the oldest player to play in the World Cup Finals aged 42 years and 39 days.
With less than 8 minutes remaining Ospina led the applause when his number came up, but not for himself. He was paying tribute to his predecessor whom he warmly embraced as Cuiabáʼs Arena Pantanal rose to acclaim a small piece of World Cup history. Faryd Mondragón Ali broke Millaʼs record. Aged 43 years and 3 days old he saw out the remaining time.
Even without Falcao, Colombia look impressive. Rodríguez came on at half time It wasnʼt hard to see why Rodríguez featured highly – third – in the vote for French Player of the Year. His goal was magnificent, but that was far from all he did. He made this exciting team tick almost immediately winning a corner after a mazy run into the area. He rushed over to take the corner and then curl in a teasing cross.
With less than ten minutes of the second half played Rodríguez whipped in an enticing free-kick from the left-wing. Carlos Carbonero Mancilla should have done better at the back post, but failed to deliver the finish that the 22-year-old Rodríguezʼ cross deserved. A minute later Éder Álavarez Balanta began the move deep in his own half that culminated in Martínez ending his five year wait for another goal for his country. PSV Eindhovenʼs Santiago Arias Naranjo cut in from the right and passed to Rodríguez, who controlled and laid off to Martínez in one elegant motion.
Japan continued to press and Ospina made a rare hash of Yūto Nagatomoʼs cross, but nothing came of it. Their first half efforts had not been convincing before the equaliser. Shinji Kagawaʼs first half effort was weak, but at least demanded a save from Ospina, whereas Hondaʼs free-kick went marginally wide. With 25 minutes left a lovely move was almost capped off with a goal, but Yoshito Ōkuboʼs shot from Atsuto Uchidaʼs cross just missed.
With less than ten minutes of normal time remaining a wonderful counter-attack made it safe. Rodríguezʼ telling pass into the area reached Martínez, who turned inside Uchida. Martínez wasnʼt about to miss that kind of opportunity to double his tally. Kagawa had a quick opportunity to pull one back, but pulled his shot wide. History was made shortly afterwards with Mondragón having his moment in the spotlight. The crowd sang his name as football paid tribute to the much travelled Deportivo Cali goal-keeper.
Rodríguez received the ball on the left of the area from Ramos before turning Maya Yoshida inside out to score a sublime goal, chipping over a diving Eiji Kawashima. Heʼs set to be a star if he isnʼt already. Yoichiro Kaitani had the distinction of demanding a save from Mondragón.
Portuguese referee Pedro Proença appeared to err twice both times in favour of Colombia. A theatrical fall – it was a dive – by Portoʼs Juan Fernando Quintero Paniagua after 28 minutes should have had greater consequences. Proença rightly ignored the appeals for a penalty, but he failed to book the player. As controversies go that was a minor one, but such ridiculous diving must be controlled and that wonʼt happen unless referees crack down on it. Young players like Quintero need to learn that it wonʼt be tolerated.
However, Proença made an excellent decision when Martínez went down after 24 minutes near the penalty area. It proved to be an excellent tackle by Konno who got the ball before colliding with Martínez too. But he missed an important decision after an hour as did his assistant. Balanta clearly swung an elbow that caught and bloodied Okazakiʼs nose. It should have been a straight red card without argument. It may yet be reviewed as there is no place for that in football.
Colombia will face Uruguay in the last 16. It remains to be seen if Luis Suárez Díaz will be allowed to play, but on this form the Colombians will take some stopping.