Touted as Player of the Tournament before Colombia’s quarter-final clash with Brazil, Monaco star James Rodriguez looked primed to give counterpart Neymar competition for the most talented individual on the pitch at the Arena Castelao.
As a result of such hype, Brazil had a game plan, and a brutal one at that. Scolari’s ideas centred on stifling Rodriguez, meaning the 22-year-old was in for a severe kicking from start to finish.
Rodriguez took a beating
Colombia’s brightest hope and creative linchpin kept plugging away despite little protection form the officials, showing Neymar, who went off injured after remaining largely anonymous throughout, how to perform on the biggest stage of all.
Yet, it was all in vain, as Rodriguez and his men were not quite strong enough to withstand such an onslaught from the Brazilian musclemen.
The Spanish referee was in a difficult predicament. With several players from both sides one yellow card away from missing a potential semifinal, Carlos Velasco Carballo seemed rather reluctant to punish players for even the most cynical foul.
Rodriguez, who has now scored more goals than Colombia did in their last two World Cup’s combined, bore the brunt of the fouls players were allowed to get away with.
At halftime, and having provided the cross which allowed Thiago Silva to open the scoring, his first assist of the tournament, Neymar was well ahead of Rodriguez in terms of influence on the game.
With 42 touches, one assist, two shots and two successful dribbles, Brazil’s darling was outshining his fellow 22-year-old, who only managed 27 touches in the opening period.
However, despite suffering an even more ferocious tirade of late challenges after the interval, Rodriguez’s influence on the match grew.
His frustrations did boil over as he was cautioned himself for a late challenge, but after calming words from his coach Jose Pekerman, Rodriguez carried on with what he does best, and laid on a delightful pass which contributed to his side winning a penalty.
Neymar's injury devasting blow to Brazil
Neymar struggled to add any real quality to the Brazilian attack, and despite finishing the match with three shots at goal, A Selecao’s talisman had to rely on a centre-half to decide the contest.
It has now emerged that Neymar’s tournament is over due to a broken vertebrae suffered in the latter stages of the match.
Rodriguez is lucky he was able to leave the pitch on both feet after the physical onslaught he faced too.
“We lost out fluidity because of the intensity,” Pekerman said post-match.
“But in James (Rodriguez) we have a special player. He dreams of being able to show what he can do.”
Having overtaken Neymar’s touches of the ball statistic before the Brazilian forward made his exit on a stretcher, Rodriguez left the pitch in tears, disappointed his dream is over.
It is the end of the line for both of these after the news about Neymar, and although Rodriguez certainly stole the show this time around, I can’t wait for their next tussle.
Just next time, let’s hope the skills, not the foul count, make the headlines.