Young James fills Falcao’s boots as Colombians dream big

Both those questions appeared to be answered in emphatic fashion on Saturday when forward James Rodriguez turned in a man-of-the match performance in the team’s 3-0 Group C victory over Greece.

佛山桑拿

Colombia pressed and harried their opponents to notch their biggest win in the World Cup finals and their first since 1998.

Rodriguez was celebrated back home for his role in the victory, only Colombia’s fourth in 14 World Cup matches dating back to 1962.

“James assumes the vacant position of team leader,” read the headline on one of the country’s biggest online portals.

Rodriguez, who plays alongside Falcao at AS Monaco, is still only 22 but his bright start buoyed a side and the tens of thousands of fans who turned the Mineirao stadium into a sea of yellow.

A goal by Teofilo Gutierrez, who is replacing Falcao at centre forward, was another good sign for a side expected to do well after finishing second in the South American qualifiers last year.

Those factors, combined with a favourable draw that put them in a favourable group with Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan, has given Colombians the sense that this may be the team to finally get past the last 16, something they have never done before.

Colombia qualified for three World Cups in a row from 1990 to 1998 but disappointed each time, even with quality players such as Carlos Valderrama, Rene Higuita, and Freddy Rincon in their ranks.

The optimism was particularly welcome just 24 hours before Colombians go to the polls in a presidential election.

Both candidates in the run-off vote wore Colombia shirts to watch the game and both tweeted their delight at the victory.

Colombia’s next game is against Ivory Coast, who came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 on Saturday.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)