Colombia 2-0 Uruguay: James Rodriguez steals the show

June 30, 2014

The starting line-ups

Colombia took a while to get going, but never looked in trouble after James Rodriguez’s astonishing strike.

Jose Pekerman selected Jackson Martinez, though he played from the left rather than alongside Teo Gutierrez upfront.

Oscar Tabarez was without Luis Suarez, as you might have heard…Edinson Cavani moved upfront, and Diego Forlan played the support role. Tabarez stuck with the 3-5-2, so Maxi Pereira returned with Alvaro Gonzalez shifting inside and Nicolas Lodeiro dropped.

This was a pretty simple victory – Colombia are a far superior side to Uruguay, and demonstrated that for the first 50 minutes before sitting back.

Colombia full-backs

Uruguay were playing a 3-5-2 system, which meant they had plenty of numbers at the back, and were strong through the centre of. The obvious weakness was out wide, where the two Colombian full-backs were free – and both took advantage from an early stage.

Uruguay are always well-drilled, of course, and they shifted across the pitch laterally to close them down. Alvaro Gonzalez and Cristian Rodriguez would usually shuttle out towards them, or the wing-backs could move forward with the rest of the defence shifting across. It wasn’t like Pablo Armero and Juan Zuniga were completely free all the time, but they were generally allowed space to receive the ball, and had a few seconds to consider their options before they were shut down.

Armero and Zuniga didn’t simply make off-the-ball overlapping runs, but also collected possession in deep positions before dribbling forward directly towards goal, forcing Uruguay to react quickly. The full-backs, along with the central midfielders, ensured Colombia’s possession dominance in the first half – but also helped them move up the pitch.

James Rodriguez

Yet again, James Rodriguez was the star. He, along with Arjen Robben, had been the best player of the group phase, and Rodriguez stepped it up again with another great display and both goals.

Rodriguez was marked tightly by Egidio Arevalo Rios in the opening stages. Whereas Wayne Rooney took half an hour to realise he needed to vary his position to drag Arevalo Rios into uncomfortable zones, Rodriguez understood this instinctively. His drifts into deep midfield positions were the key feature of his group stage performances, and here he was always on the move – coming short, moving wide, drifting between the lines. His contribution with the ball was fantastic, but as with all the great number tens, his awareness of space is also exellent.

The opening goal was a perfect example. Yes, it was a truly stunning strike – perfect on-the-turn chest control and an instant dipping shot. But watch the build-up to the goal and Rodriguez’s positioning between the lines is very intelligent, and just before the ball comes, he takes a look over his shoulder to assess the situation behind him, and consider whether he had room for a shot.

Switching play

If the first goal was a good demonstration of Rodriguez’s ability to find space, the second was a perfect example of how Colombia frequently switched play, which is vital for a side playing with width, against a very narrow team.

It was a key part of Colombia’s approach throughout. The move for the second goal started with Zuniga in the right-back zone, before the ball was switched out to Armero motoring forward from left-back. As Uruguay sprinted across to that side of the pitch, they were then exposed on the far side, where the move had started from – Juan Cuadrado found space to receive the ball at the far post, and headed back for Rodriguez to convert. It was a lovely team goal.

Again, the subtly in the movement and the runs of various players was fantastic. Rodriguez started on the left and suddenly makes a run into the box, which opens up space for Armero, because Maxi Pereira is being dragged inside.

For the second time, Rodriguez’s head movement is interesting – as he starts the run, he immediately checks to see if Pereira is following, rather than concentrating on the ball. Perhaps he was simply trying to find space himself, but he could have been making that run deliberately to pull Pereira into the middle, allowing Armero to find freedom – you wouldn’t usually check to see if a particular player was following your run, or at least not so noticeably.

There was also a clever change of run from Rodriguez to meet the Cuadrado knock-down (the type of movement Radamel Falcao specialises in), four Colombian player around the six-yard box waiting to meet the cross, and an obvious Cuadrado shout, telling Teo Gutierrez to leave the cross because he’s in a better position.


The substitutes were what you’d expect – Uruguay switched to 4-2-1-3ish by bringing on Christian Stuani, Abel Hernandez and Gaston Ramirez, three attacking players, and pinned back the Colombian full-backs.

Pekerman, meanwhile, replaced striker Gutierrez with holding midfielder Alexander Mejia, and winger Cuadrado with hard-working midfielder Fredy Guarin.

Uruguay inevitably dominated the final 20 minutes, but aside from a Maxi Pereira chance after a good one-two with Ramirez, and a couple of set-piece half-chances, they never looked likely to make a comeback.


This was a nice tactical battle, because the goals came from the two things Colombia did especially well – they got their full-backs forward and switched play, and they got Rodriguez into clever pockets of space, despite the fact he was being man-marked. 2-0 isn’t a big win, but this was a conclusive victory against a poor side.

Colombia aren’t yet perfect, though. The defensive ’six’ plus Rodriguez and Cuadrado have all been excellent, but there’s still a question about the format in the final third, with neither Jackson Martinez nor Teo Gutierrez particularly impressive here. Pekerman might need to use others, at least from the bench, in future rounds for Colombia to have a shot at glory.

Uruguay’s World Cup has been dominated by Suarez, of course, and it fits with their overall performance. Two wins with Suarez, two defeats without Suarez.

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