Colombia send Uruguayans home in style
Sometimes, the good guys do win. That was overwhelming story of the Maracana on this humid June night.
Once a synonym for all that was wrong with this region, Colombia delivered the World Cup a slab of meaty, mob justice by knocking out Uruguay, whose enfant terrible, Luis Suarez, watched on helplessly as home.
This completed the perfect day for the host nation. Not only were they able to overcome Chile up in Belo Horizonte but their Maracana, after 64 years, would finally extract a most cathartic revenge on Uruguay.
Just as poetically, the stadium would witness a spectacular performance from a number 10 wearing a yellow shirt: James Rodriguez.
The exquisitely talented 22-year old scored both goals, a first-half volley of pure individual brilliance and technique before putting the final touch on a perfect team move early in the second half.
Now Brazil and Colombia get to face off with each other next Friday in Fortaleza, which promises all sorts of wonder. Given Chile went within a crossbar of defeating Brazil, Los Cafeteros will feel they are every chance.
So much of the pre-game build-up was about Suarez: his absence, his ban, his bite, his future. He'd have made a difference, as great players do, but not enough to turn this in his nation's favour.
Besides, it has somehow been forgotten that Colombia are without Radamel Falcao, one of the world's best strikers. The difference is that Falcao's Monaco teammate, Rodriguez, is making up for his absence.
The result was no less than they deserved, for they played with attacking intent from the opening whistle, keeping the ball in their relentless passing cycle that used every man on the pitch.
Uruguay didn't apply much forward pressure either, preferring to stack numbers defensively. When the scoreboard revealed Colombia's percentage of possession was hovering at 70 per cent, their fans keenly applauded a moral victory.
Coach Jose Pekerman stood on the edge of his box, nervously riding each play. He needn't have worried. Just before the half-hour mark, he could be at peace.
Some nifty head tennis ended with Rodriguez taking the ball down on his chest, turning and firing a left-foot volley and that brushed Fernando Muslera's flailing fingertip, hit the underside of the bar and crashed in.
It might not be the last time Rodriguez does it at this tournament; perhaps not the last time in this stadium. It is hosting the final, after all.
The game needed the goal. It forced Uruguay to come out and play. A tangle between two men who should know better, Colombia's 38-year old Mario Yepes and Urguay's 35-year old Diego Forlan, reflected the rising palpable tension.
All except those in sky blue were bouncing when the Colombians doubled their advantage in the second half. If the first goal was a piece of solo quality, this was its collective equal.
The Colombians swept down the field on the right but, running out of room, switched the play and eventually the late run of Pablo Armero was spotted down the vacant left. He curled in a cross that floated beyond the far post to Juan Cuadrado, who selflessly headed down to Rodriguez for a squared finish.
The Uruguayans don't take losing well, certainly not on the big stage, and their reflex action to any trickery was physical. The Colombians spent the final 30 minutes frequently floored by the studs, elbows and knees of their beaten rivals.
When Gaston Ramierez followed through on Armero, everyone winced. Few countries so keenly seek the edge of savagery.
Not that they were only brutal, for Uruguay have always produced skilful players. They pressed forward and created, and Edinson Cavani nearly snuck an effort in the bottom corner, only for David Ospina's eagle-eyes to see everything first.
But the bad boys now need to spend some time in the naughty corner, while the rest of us can bask in the delights Rodriguez and ponder what lies ahead for him and his thrilling team.
Sydney Morning Herald