Colombia make sure of top spot, as James Rodriguez continues to make their campaign his own. The sparkling attacker came off the bench to set up two Jackson Martinez strikes and score himself, sending Japan home. It means Colombia will now meet Uruguay in Rio on Saturday for an all-South American derby. That conforms to a theme of this World Cup.
Colombia actually started like the team with more at stake, despite Japan needing a win to go through. They tore at Alberto Zaccheroni’s side and, within 16 minutes, were ahead. The erratic Yasuyuki Konno was lured into a lunge from another forceful attack, and Adrian Ramos was up-ended for a penalty.Juan Cuadrado duly powered it into the corner of the net.
Japan could have been two goals down as well as 10 men down just minutes later, as Konno seemed to commit another such foul on Jackson Martinez. The referee waved it away but there was then a danger of Japan being swept away. The frantic nature of their defending reflected an increasingly chaotic game.
Japan benefited from similar issues, even if Shinji Okazaki showed supreme athleticism to take advantage. On the stroke of half-time, he beat David Ospina with a brilliant back-header.
It is the one big issue with Colombian, just as they are being talked about as potential quarter-finalists. They can take you apart on the break, but are also all too susceptible to falling apart at the back.
They soon emphasised their qualities again, and Rodriguez reasserted his brilliance. Just 10 minutes after half-time, the substitute finally got on the ball in an advanced possession and set up Martinez with a clever pass. The forward drove it in for his first goal of the tournament and perhaps the first time he has answered all the discussion about having to properly replace the injured Radamel Falcao.
It is Rodriguez who has emerged as the team’s star. On 82 minutes, he set up Martinez again for a superior goal with an even better pass. On 89, Rodriguez surpassed it all with a glorious lifted finish.
In between all of that, 43-year-old goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon replaced Ospina to become the World Cup’s oldest ever player. But Rodriguez’s time is just beginning.
Japan (4-2-3-1): Kawashima; Uchida, Yoshida, Konno, Nagatomo; Aoyama (Yamaguchi, 62), Hasebe; Okazaki (Kakitani, 69), Honda, Kagawa (Kiyotake, 85); Okubo.
Colombia (4-2-2-2): Ospina (Mondragon, 85); Arias, Valdes, Balanta, Armero; Guarin, Mejia; Cuadrado (Carbonero, 45), Quintero (Rodriguez, 45); Ramos, Martinez.
Referee: P Proenca (Portugal)