RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – James Rodríguez knocked Luis Suárez out of the headlines with an exquisite goal as Colombia beat Uruguay 2-0 on Saturday to set up a World Cup quarter-final against hosts Brazil.
Pre-match buildup had been dominated Suárez’s four-month ban for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, but by the final whistle in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, there was only one name on everyone’s lips.
After scoring in every group game, Rodríguez broke the deadlock shortly before the half hour with a breath-taking strike, chesting the ball down and volleying home from 25 meters.
The 22-year-old Monaco playmaker added a second goal early in the second half, sending him to the top of the scorers chart with five goals and confirming his status as a World Cup hot property.
Rodríguez’s goals took Colombia into the quarter-finals for the first time, meaning the northern Brazilian city of Fortaleza will turn completely yellow when José Pekerman’s side play the hosts on July 4.
On the prospect of facing Brazil, Rodríguez said: “They’re a tough team, they have great players, and they also have their history.
“But we have to go out onto the pitch looking to win, as we’ve always done.”
Uruguay’s fans sported Suárez masks and brandished banners in support of their wayward star, who flew home to Montevideo on Friday, while his shirt was hung up in the Uruguay changing room.
But they endured a night of disappointment on their return to the Maracana, scene of the country’s seismic 2-1 win over Brazil in the deciding game of the 1950 World Cup.
“The [first] goal was 100 percent the work of the player who scored it. It was one of the greatest goals of this World Cup,” said Uruguay coach Óscar Tabárez. “We have to accept defeat, congratulate Colombia, and wish them well, as a South American team, in the rest of the tournament.”
Diego Forlan replaced Suárez for Uruguay, while Pekerman sprang a surprise by selecting two center-forwards in Jackson Martínez and Teofilo Gutiérrez.
Although Martínez lined up on the left flank, there was no lack of ambition to Colombia’s play.
Juan Cuadrado and Juan Zúñiga set the tone with purposeful early runs at the Uruguay defense, with one of the latter’s raids culminating in a low shot that Fernando Muslera gathered at the second attempt.
Uruguay were content to cede possession to their opponents, sitting deep on the edge of their own box, but their defenses were breached in the 28th minute by a goal of jaw-dropping splendor.
After Abel Aguilar saw a chipped pass cleared back to him, he headed the ball up to Rodríguez, who was standing just outside the penalty area.
The Colombia No. 10 controlled the ball on his chest, turned, and unleashed a magnificent dipping volley that crashed in off the crossbar.
Rodríguez, who has now scored in each of his last six international games, celebrated with appropriate abandon, screaming “¡Vamos!” at the hordes of jubilant yellow-shirted fans in the front-row seats.
Uruguay set about trying to wipe out the deficit, but Edinson Cavani’s free-kick narrowly cleared the bar and Álvaro González was foiled by a full-length parry from Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina.
Colombia doubled their lead five minutes into the second half with a fine team goal.
Pablo Armero’s deep left-wing cross was headed down by Cuadrado and Rodríguez swept home his second of the night from close range.
Ospina kept Uruguay at bay thereafter, parrying shots from González, Cristian Rodríguez and Cavani and saving bravely from Maxi Pereira.
Uruguay’s frustration began to tell, with substitute Gaston Ramírez booked for a wild kick at Armero.
Four years after reaching the semi-finals in South Africa, Uruguay’s World Cup ended at the scene of their greatest triumph.