Colombia’s James Rodriguez Emerges as Potential Player of the Copa America Tournament

In an emphatic performance, Colombia advanced to the Copa America semifinals by defeating Panama 5-0. James Rodriguez starred with a goal and two assists, showcasing his skill and leadership.

Colombia indeed advanced to the semifinals in Copa América on Saturday, taking down Panama 5-0 and getting goals from five players: John Cordoba, James Rodriguez, Luis Diaz, Richard Rios, and Miguel Borja. Rodriguez was undoubtedly the standout performer in the match, finishing with two assists, making him the first Player to score and assist on a goal in the first 15 minutes of a Copa América match since 2011, according to FOX Sports Research.

Rodriguez also became the third Player to have three goal contributions (goal or assist) in the first half of a Copa América game in the last five editions of the tournament, with the other two being Lionel Messi (2021) and Clint Dempsey (2016). When it’s all said and done, could Rodriguez be named the Player of the Tournament?

Rodriguez’s Stellar Performance

Melissa Ortiz broke down the Colombian star’s success in the tournament after Jimmy Conrad proposed that Rodriguez be named Player of the Tournament. “James Rodriguez has been just stellar. Stellar performance, through and through, not only offensively but also defensively, too, because you see his work rate,” Ortiz said. “And I think he sets the tone and the energy of this team, and that’s why they’re so intense up until the final whistle. He’s the engine, the motor; he’s the heart of this squad. … I think that having him as a key component of this squad when he didn’t even play in the 2021 Copa América, and now seeing him evolve, has been extraordinary.”

Rodriguez, who turns 33 later this month, plays in Brazil with São Paulo. Still, he holds a wealth of experience playing in several prominent leagues, including the Premier League (for Everton), La Liga (for Real Madrid), and Bundesliga (for Bayern Munich), among others. Has he shown enough to get another sweet gig?

Wes Morgan made the case for Rodriguez. “After this display that we’ve seen so far in this tournament, I think most teams will take him,” Morgan said. “I think the No. 10 role is sometimes considered a luxury. The person that’s got the freedom. Give them the ball, and they can express themselves and mix things up. I think Rodriguez is showing good qualities in getting on the board and evading the challenge and the pressure of the position. … He’s had his turn in the Premier League, and it didn’t work out. And then he’s gone on a bit of a journey, but in this tournament, he’s looked fantastic. I’m sure he’d be useful for any team, not just [in] the Premier League.”

Colombia’s Dominance

As for Colombia’s thundering win over Panama, they got off seven shots, including five on goal. Meanwhile, Panama got off 14 shots, including three on goal — of course, though, to no avail. Colombia previously went 2-1-0 in Group D play, beating Paraguay 2-1, followed by a 3-0 win over Costa Rica and playing Brazil to a 1-1 draw. Colombia will play in the semifinals on July 10.

Nestor Lorenzo often has a neat way of summing things up. Asked about the enigmatic James Rodriguez before a crunch match with Brazil on Tuesday, Colombia’s smooth-talking coach delivered again. “Now he runs a little less but thinks a little more. It’s good for him. He’s well surrounded, and that’s what’s making him play well.”

After just three games at the 2024 Copa America, the 32-year-old Rodriguez has created 11 chances for teammates — more than any other player in the tournament — and laid on three assists. If it hadn’t been for the merciless line-drawing of the video assistant referee (VAR) halfway through a thrilling first half against Brazil in Santa Clara, California, last night, he would have made it four.

“I know his love for the jersey, his commitment to the national team,” continued Lorenzo, “and that’s why I trusted him.” Rodriguez’s involvement with the Colombian national team has not been assured in recent years, missing out on the 2021 Copa America squad as his club form continued to wander. Now, at Brazilian side São Paulo, fitness and form have allowed him to play just under 700 league minutes in 12 months.

Nonetheless, Lorenzo has found a place for Rodriguez’s technical ability to breathe in a 4-3-1-2 system, pulling the strings in a positionally fluid role behind the two strikers. Hard-runners and tough-tacklers Jefferson Lerma and Richard Rios can do the dirty work in midfield, leaving the No. 10 free to combine with the intelligent Jhon Arias, pick out the relentless channel runs of Luis Diaz, or look to the box for bustling center-forward Jhon Cordoba.

Strategic Playmaking

With the freedom to roam into pockets of space, Rodriguez will react to the game in front of him. He likes to drop into the build-up phase and collect the ball from the center-backs, particularly against the aggressive low-blocks of Paraguay and Costa Rica, who worked hard to close down his preferred spaces in midfield during the first two group matches. Things were more open in the 1-1 draw against Brazil, allowing him to stray into dangerous areas in the right half-space, where he did not hesitate to cut inside and find his teammates. Once in those areas, his delivery has been consistently inch-perfect.

One of the last contributions to his lock-picking clinic against Brazil was to create the following opportunity for Cordoba from precisely that space. With that extra thinking time mentioned by Lorenzo — made as he peels out wide to receive the pass — Rodriguez picks out a perfectly judged cross that drops right on the six-yard line, sailing over the defenders and landing on his striker’s head.

Seven of his 11 chances created for teammates in this tournament have come from dead-ball deliveries, and with his ability to judge the weight of his passes, it is clear to see why. Something about how Rodriguez floats the ball in — the almost leisurely way of sending it looping and spinning toward goal, leaving it hanging in the air just long enough to nail the goalkeeper to his line — makes each cross incredibly easy to attack.

From corners, too, Rodriguez constantly delivered the ball to the edge of the six-yard box. Such is the quality and consistency of these crosses that he will trot over to take any Colombia set piece, anywhere on the pitch, to a raucous reception from their fans in the crowd.

Rodriguez can switch it up, too. Early in the first half against Brazil, he grazed the bar with a vicious free kick, the ball dipping and swerving as it careered over the wall. He also sent a shot flying from a crossing position towards Alisson’s near post. Strolling up to the ball, leaning back, he suddenly closed his body and wrapped his foot around the ball, forcing the goalkeeper to scramble back and push a spinning shot over the top.

Finesse and Firepower

There is finesse and firepower in his left boot. Despite what Lorenzo’s summary may suggest, Rodriguez is not low-intensity by any stretch; only Brazil defender Marquinhos had more touches last night in the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, while the four tackles he put in could only be bettered by his teammate Daniel Munoz. Even if he has lost a yard of pace as he prepares to turn 33 in just over a week, Rodriguez’s appetite for the national team keeps him on the move.

“He is a player that we have to mark closely,” said Brazil midfielder Bruno Guimaraes before the game, “someone will always have to keep an eye on him.”

Colombia extended that streak to 27 matches with one of the more dominant displays of the tournament, winning 5-0 to clinch a spot in the semifinals. Rodríguez’s penalty kick and overall performance were critical to their success.

Rodriguez’s Impact and Future

James Rodriguez’s influence in this Copa America cannot be overstated. His ability to create chances, vision, and precise delivery have been pivotal for Colombia. As they progress in the tournament, Rodriguez will remain a central figure in their quest for glory. His performances have reignited his career and shown that he still has much to offer on the international stage.

As the tournament progresses, all eyes will be on Rodriguez to see if he can continue his stellar form and lead Colombia to the title. Whether he earns the title of Player of the Tournament or not, his contributions have already made a significant impact, and his legacy in Copa America history is firmly cemented.

Also read: Remembering Andrés Escobar: Colombia’s Tragic Soccer Hero

James Rodriguez’s exceptional performances have driven Colombia to the semifinals of the Copa America. His playmaking skills, leadership, and experience have been crucial for the team’s success. As the tournament unfolds, Rodriguez’s influence will be critical to Colombia’s ambitions, and his resurgence is a testament to his enduring talent and commitment to his national team.

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