Rodríguez has shone in Radamel Falcao’s absence but the Seleção need to stop playing long balls to Neymar
James Rodríguez has been one of the stars of the World Cup and will cause Brazil problems if the Seleção do not improve.
As I drove back from the Maracanã after watching Colombia beat Uruguay, I remembered how a lot of people, myself included, thought their chances of a good run at the 2014 World Cup had been severely hampered by Radamel Falcao’s injury, five months before the start of the tournament. After all, he is one of their leading all-time top scorers and his goals had been crucial in guaranteeing their qualification. Well, the Colombians have surpassed expectations and for the first time in their history they have reached the quarter-finals.
But it’s the authority with which they booked their place in the last eight that amazes me. Football is not an exact science and instead of sulking, the Colombians have learned to live without Falcao. When he was scoring so many goals, his team-mates simply played for him, but his departure forced them to play more as a team and that allowed James Rodríguez and Juan Cuadrado to emerge. These two are excellent pieces that fronted a re‑engineering job carried on by the Argentinean manager José Pékerman, who also deserves some credit for making his team believe they could bounce back from the loss of such a talent as Falcao.
Colombia go into the Brazil game on Friday on the back of four wins and very convincing displays. They have scored 11 goals and conceded only two. What struck me in their last-16 game was how they worked the ball well and attacked the Uruguayans with a lot of poise without losing their shape.
Rodríguez impressed me immensely. In my opinion, he is one of the most talented players in this World Cup. His passing is sweet and it is really interesting how deceitful he can be: Rodríguez can look absent from the game but can pounce and catch his markers unaware. He is in my World Cup XI so far and a midfielder that scores five goals in four matches must be respected.
I also like Mario Yepes at the back. He is a leader and helps manage the defence, while Pablo Armero can be a bit of a loose cannon but he is certainly a talented player. With Colombia playing like this, Uruguay would have suffered even if Luis Suárez was available. In the World Cup qualifiers Colombia beat them 4-0 in Barranquilla. Suárez is an amazing player who seems to know all the secrets of the box but Colombia are stronger collectively.
I must say Fifa did the right thing to punish Suárez. This is the World Cup and billions of people are watching. Fifa couldn’t just ignore a type of aggression that has no place in sport. Besides, it wasn’t the first time Suárez behaved like that. My only criticism of the suspension is that it ended up affecting Liverpool. The club had nothing to do with this incident and I reckon that limiting the punishment to international games would have been the best option. But by no means should Suárez have escaped punishment. In all my years as player and manager I have never seen a player bite an opponent.
Now Colombia must fancy their chances. They must have been encouraged by seeing Chile take Brazil to the wire in Belo Horizonte. I don’t believe the Seleção will play so horribly twice in a row. Against the Chileans they lacked inspiration and this time Neymar failed to impose himself. He got a whack at the beginning of the game and that hampered his movement a bit, which made it easier for the Chileans to close him down.
Brazil were dominated and put under pressure for long periods of the game and, to be honest, I think the Chileans didn’t go for the kill as they did against Spain. It’s like they respected Brazil too much. The Seleção managed to create a few chances, but the fact is that we are lacking a proper gameplan. There is no more buildup from the back and players once again resorted to long balls to Neymar.
What worried me more was the marking, especially from the full-backs. In midfield, the second yellow card for Luiz Gustavo was bad news. He is our best man-marker and would have been quite useful to keep Rodríguez at bay. Cuadrado is another player the Brazilians will have to find a strategy to deal with. The penalty shootout was marked by some nervousness from the players that I still find a bit weird. There was a weird feeling in the stadium and the shot that hit the crossbar from Chile’s Mauricio Pinilla at the very end of extra time left everybody shocked.
I have defended Scolari’s decision to keep Júlio César as Brazil No1 and now it’s time for him to be vindicated. He was amazing in Belo Horizonte but not only because of the penalty saves. He also stopped a potential match-winning shot in the second half, showing how sharp he can be.
Brazil need to improve and avoid focusing everything on Neymar. Colombia will present a different challenge than Chile, for they don’t play such a high pressure game. But with what Rodríguez and co have done so far, they will be looking forward to an upset.