Rio de Janeiro: His name is James Rodriguez, but he pronounces it Hahm-ez, and that was the way the Colombians sang it Saturday night. They have been singing his praises all along, in fact, but in the flurry of goals and teams and story lines in this World Cup, there was a chance a few people had not yet noticed Rodriguez. Everyone knows him now.
Rodiguez scored two more goals - giving him five at this World Cup - in a 2-0 victory over Uruguay that sent Colombia to the quarterfinals for the first time. Things get tougher now, to be sure, with a date against host Brazil on Friday in Fortaleza. But with Rodriguez having scored in each of Colombia's games, and with Brazil struggling past Chile on penalty kicks earlier Saturday, anything seems possible.
Rodriguez scored with his left foot in the first half and with his right in the second, showing the talent that prompted AS Monaco to pay $61 million to acquire him last summer. A boyish-looking midfielder, Rodriguez will turn 22 the day before the World Cup final. If he can guide his team past Brazil, and if Colombia can extend an unbeaten streak that reached 11 games Saturday, he just might be playing in that final.
One hundred forty goals have been scored in this World Cup, but Rodriguez's first on Saturday has to rank among the best. Presented with a floating ball at the top of the penalty area off a headed pass from Abel Aguilar, Rodriguez coolly brought the ball out of the air with his chest. Eyeing it from inches away as it dropped, he caught it with his left foot just before it hit the ground and scorched it in off the crossbar.
Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera dove gamely at the ball, but he and the two Uruguayan defenders in position to stop Rodriguez, Alvaro Pereira and Diego Godin, seemed as shocked as anyone at what he had just done. Their shoulders dropped as they watched the ball land beyond Muslera. (Match highlights)
The Colombians raced to the corner flag for one of the hip-shaking celebration dances that have become their trademark here. They have had plenty of practice: Colombia has 11 goals in the tournament - three against Greece, two against Ivory Coast and four against Japan, along with the two it added Saturday.
Rodriguez's second goal was nearly as pretty as the first. Laying the ball off on the right side, he tracked toward the goal as it cycled to defender Pablo Armero on the left. Armero's cross sailed high over Rodriguez's head to Juan Guillermo Cuadrado beyond the far post, but Cuadrado nodded it back into the middle and Rodriguez casually turned it into the open net.
The Colombian-heavy crowd roared with delight and saluted Rodriguez as he and his teammates did another dance in the corner. The small pockets of fans in Uruguay's sky blue fell silent, drowned out by the sea of yellow Colombian shirts that serenaded them with choruses of "Eliminado."
Uruguay, furious at a suspension that sent its star forward Luis Suarez home from Brazil, took the field like a clenched fist. Pereira got a talking-to from the referee after committing two hard fouls in the first 90 seconds. In the fourth minute, he delivered a third, clipping a Colombian player from behind to stop an attack.
Diego Forlan - who started up front in place of the absent Suarez - delivered a hard shoulder to Mario Yepes off the ball in the 38th minute. And after a particularly swift kick dropped Armero in front of the Uruguay bench in the 78th, defender Diego Lugano raced off it to shout at him, earning him a yellow card even though he never entered the game.
The Uruguayan players appeared to be following the lead of their coach, who angrily denounced the Suarez ban in a 15-minute speech to reporters Friday. Uruguay set up a locker for Suarez in its dressing room at the Maracana stadium, and players like Edinson Cavani posted photos on Twitter of themselves posing with his No. 9. But without Suarez, they were off their game.
Outrage only goes so far; in this World Cup, the Round of 16 was the end of the line.