22-YEAR-OLD COLOMBIAN PLAYMAKER James Rodriguez is fast becoming one of the stars of the World Cup. The AS Monaco man came on after half-time to inspire his team to a win that confirmed them as winners of Group C.
Jackson Martinez scored twice as Colombia beat Japan 4-1 to end their group campaign with a perfect three wins and boot the Asian champions out of the tournament. His two second-half goals broke Japanese hearts after the Japanese had equalised on the stroke of half-time to keep their hopes alive in Cuiaba.
Colombian fans decked out in yellow turned the stadium into a home fixture, hugely outnumbering their Japanese counterparts as coach Jose Pekerman made eight changes to his starting line-up.
The new-look team started brightly but once Japan settled they enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession, with Shinji Kagawa — restored to the starting XI — and Keisuke Honda probing for an opening.
Colombia took the lead against the run of play when Adrian Ramos was upended by Yasuyuki Konna as he burst into the penalty area, earning the defender a booking. Juan Cuadrado converted from the spot in the 17th minute to put Colombia 1-0 in front.
Japan, criticised for their toothless display against Greece in their previous match, pressed for an equaliser. Kagawa forced a smart save from David Ospina and Honda went close from a free-kick.
Their efforts were eventually rewarded when Shinji Okazaki scored with an impressive diving header from Honda’s teasing left-footed cross.
Pekerman brought on Carlos Carbonero and James Rodriguez to replace Cuadrado and Juan Quintero at the start of the second half. Rodriguez, who has shone in Brazil in the absence of his club team-mate Radamel Falcao, immediately looked dangerous and after 10 minutes helped Martinez fire Colombia in front.
As the game became stretched, Kagawa and Honda tried their luck from distance and Yoshito Okubo blazed over from close range. But with just eight minutes to go of normal time Martinez kept his composure in the box after a rapid break, firing past Eiji Kawashima for his second goal.
To roars from the Colombian fans Pekerman brought on veteran goalkeeper Farid Mondragon, who last appeared at the finals 16 years ago. He surpassed Cameroon’s Milla, who played at 42 years and 39 days, but Mondragon is now set to hang up his gloves.
His night was brightened further when Rodriguez burst into the box with seconds to go, producing a deft left-footed chip over the goalkeeper to seal an emphatic win.