James Rodríguez is rolling back the years at the Copa América | Copa América

Cast your mind back to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, specifically the last 16 meeting between Colombia and Uruguay. James Rodríguez stole the show. Colombia won 2-0 and he scored both goals, the first of which was voted the goal of the tournament and went on to win the Puskás Award. Rodríguez was 25 yards from the Uruguay goal when he controlled a header from Juan Cuadrado on his chest before swivelling and unleashing an unstoppable shot past Fernando Muslera without even looking at the goal.

In the decade since, the teams have met six times, with Colombia only winning once – and that was on penalties. Uruguay have held the upper hand and Marcelo Bielsa’s side have been impressive at the Copa América, winning all three of their group games before beating Brazil in the quarter-finals. They are also flying in World Cup qualifying, having beaten Brazil and Argentina, and are motivated to win their 16th Copa América title, which would re-establish them as the most decorated team in the tournament’s history.

But something about this semi-final feels ominous for Uruguay. The main reason to be fearful of falling at the final furlong is the form of Rodríguez. The 32-year-old is playing at the same level he reached in 2014, when his performances at the World Cup culminated in a £63m move from Monaco to Real Madrid, making him the fourth most expensive footballer in history after Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez. His performances at the World Cup resulted in the infamous headline: “The name is Bond, James Rodríguez.” And his renaissance this year is giving Colombia a good chance of reaching what would be their third Copa América final.

Rodríguez starts out wide for Colombia in Néstor Lorenzo’s favoured 4-3-3 system. However, while the team sheet suggests he is stationed on the right flank, he has licence to roam to influence games. Essentially given a free role, Rodríguez drifts across the pitch while others carry out the hard work off the ball. Whereas Luis Díaz has a specific duty to carry out on the left flank, Rodríguez often cuts inside to get on the ball, allowing the attack-minded full-back Daniel Muñoz the opportunity to overlap and provide width down the right.

James Rodríguez celebrates with the Colombia fans after scoring against Panama. Photograph: Rick Scuteri/AP

It is in the middle where he can really influence the game for Colombia. With the freedom to move to the left or drop deep in search of possession, it’s no wonder Rodríguez has completed 170 passes – more than any other forward at the tournament. He has made 35 successful long passes, second only to the Brazil defender Marquinhos. Rodríguez is very much the creator-in-chief in the team, with his vision and accuracy helping to get Colombia on the front foot quickly. He has completed 87 passes in the opposition’s half and 41 inside the final third – the highest of any player in the Colombia squad.

His quality was evident in the 5-0 win over Panama in the quarter-finals. He set up the first goal with a perfectly placed corner; he scored the second with a powerful penalty kick; and he caught the Panama defence flat footed with a quickly taken free-kick to Díaz, who lobbed Orlando Mosquera from the edge of the box to put Colombia 3-0 up and settle the tie with just 40 minutes on the clock. Rodríguez has five assists at the tournament – more than any other player. He also ranks top for goal involvements (six) and key passes (14).

Granted, seven of Colombia’s 11 goals at the tournament have come from set pieces, but having a player with Rodríguez’s distribution is of the utmost importance when the margins are fine. Panama had more shots than Colombia in their quarter-final but they did not have Rodríguez providing inch-perfect deliveries. He was the main reason why Colombia generated a greater xG (2.33) than Panama (0.87) even though they had fewer shots.

What is all the more impressive is that Rodríguez continues to flourish for his country while having a journeyman club career. Coming into the Copa América, he had registered just 36 minutes of Brasileirao action for São Paulo FC this season. The 32-year-old has drifted for the last few years, spending time with Al-Rayyan and Olympiakos after leaving Everton in 2021, without ever finding a home. But, when the call comes from Colombia, you can be sure Rodríguez is there to take it.

Attention now turns to the semi-final against Uruguay at the Bank of America Stadium in North Carolina. This is a huge opportunity for Colombia. They are unbeaten in 27 games – a run that goes back two years – and their captain is flying. Colombia have only won the Copa América once in their history – 23 years ago on home soil. They finished fourth in 2004, third in 2016, and third again in 2021. On current form, they should not fear Uruguay, nor should they be concerned by Argentina if they secure a spot in this weekend’s final. With Rodríguez throwing it back to 2014, a second Copa América could be within Colombia’s grasp.


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