Remember the name? Colombia’s James Rodriguez finds second wind with Copa America run – Viral News

Everyone roots for a good redemption story, especially if it caters to the underdog trope. There is a significant appeal factor in comeback stories in the sporting world.

Ahead of Copa America 2024, the spotlight was on players like Lionel Messi, Vinicius Junior and Darwin Nunez, to name a few. There were raging debates about young talents like Endrick, Alejandro Garnacho and Savio.

But as the tournament has progressed, a certain Colombian, once considered a world-beating talent at one point in time, had consistently hogged the spotlight and grabbed the headlines.

James Rodriguez’s story has been one which ignited but never took off. He blasted onto the global football consciousness with his volleyed goal in a Round of 16 match against Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup.

His exploits at Porto and Monaco already had him touted as one of football’s future stars. He won the Golden Boot (six goals) during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which earned him a high-profile move to La Liga giant Real Madrid.

However, his club career never reached the same heights he displayed for Colombia. After a difficult stint at Real and an underwhelming loan spell at Bayern Munich, Rodriguez joined Everton in 2020.

He played in the Premier League for one season and had equally short spells at Qatari side Al-Rayyan and Olympiakos, before signing for Brazil’s Sao Paulo last year.

After knockout exits in Copa America 2015, 2016 and 2019 and the 2018 World Cup, Rodriguez was left out of Colombia’s squad for the 2021 Copa America due to his lack of fitness. The lowest point came when Colombia failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, after which the midfielder told  Diario Sport, “I don’t know what’s coming regarding the next phase, I don’t know if I’m going to be there or not.”

However, under coach Nestor Lorenzo, James has played a major role in evolving Colombia into one of South America’s best teams, going on a 27-match unbeaten run in which it has claimed wins against some big teams like Spain (1-0), Brazil (2-1) and Germany (2-0).

On June 15, 2024, he earned his 100th international cap, in a 3-0 friendly win against Bolivia. In Copa America 2024, donning the captain’s armband, he is back to his best in national colours, racking up five assists till now – the highest in the competition.

Back to his best

What makes James such an asset is his versatility in the attacking phase. While he made his name primarily as a No. 10, operating just behind the striker, he can also play from the flanks. In the 2024 Copa America, he started as a right winger in all its matches, with Jhon Cordoba and Luis Diaz completing the front three.

James’ Copa America impact started right from Colombia’s first Group D match in a 2-1 win against Paraguay. The 32-year-old assisted both goals for Daniel Munoz and Jefferson Lerma, respectively. With a pass accuracy of 88 per cent, he made 13 passes in the final third. What is more impressive is that, out of his 80 touches, with most coming in the final third, he was not dispossessed a single time throughout the clash.

He followed it up by creating eight chances in Colombia’s 3-0 win against Costa Rica and 1-1 draw against Brazil., where he showcased his creativity with his line-breaking passes from the flanks.

James’ exploits on the pitch helped Colombia top the group and in a blazing start against Panama in the quarterfinal, James bagged two assists and scored from the spot in their 5-0 win.

James Rodriguez’s passing against Panama. The yellow arrows denote from where he made the two assists. (Credit: Opta)

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James Rodriguez’s passing against Panama. The yellow arrows denote from where he made the two assists. (Credit: Opta)

He became only the second player to deliver five assists in a single edition of the Copa America, after Messi in 2021.

James Rodriguez at major international tournaments for Colombia

TournamentMatchesGoalsAssists
2014 World Cup582
2015 Copa America400
2016 Copa America (Centenario)621
2019 Copa America402
2021 Copa AmericaDid not play
2024 Copa America415

The focal point of Colombia’s offensive threat

James created 11 chances for this team throughout the group stages – the highest in the competition.

As expected, Colombia’s main threat has been from the right where James has started all his matches. His pin-point deliveries have made the Los Cafeteros a big threat from not only open play but also set-pieces. Till now, James has attempted 30 crosses in the campaign, out of which 17 have been accurate ones.

Four of Colombia’s 11 goals have been scored from corners or indirect free-kicks. Out of that, James has assisted three of them. According to Opta, James has an xG (expected goals) assisted figure of 0.9 from corners alone at this Copa America, four times that of any other player in the tournament.

While his main threat has come from set-pieces, James has also done his due diligence from open play. He has completed 87 passes in the opposition’s half, with 41 being in the final third, again the highest in Copa America 2024.

James Rodriguez’s final third passes in Copa America 2024 (Credit: Opta)

James Rodriguez’s final third passes in Copa America 2024 (Credit: Opta)

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James Rodriguez’s final third passes in Copa America 2024 (Credit: Opta)

While the 32-year-old’s dribbling skills have diminished from his prime years, he has compensated for that with his ball-carrying ability beyond the opposition lines, and into the penalty area, which is evident from the 11 penetrative carries he has made till now.

In the final third, he has relied on his crossing ability and vision to find his teammates inside the box. From his Copa America 2024 heat map below, as expected, he has mostly spent his time on the right flank, but there isn’t too much activity inside the opposition penalty box.

James Rodriguez’s heatmap in Copa America 2024

James Rodriguez’s heatmap in Copa America 2024

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James Rodriguez’s heatmap in Copa America 2024

Also, his ability to draw in defenders has helped the other attacking players like Cordoba and Dias flourish and play more freely. Often, James has sucked in two to three players, leaving a defender isolated against Diaz or Cordoba in 1v1 situations.

James’ next obstacle will undoubtedly be his greatest at this Copa America. He will lead Colombia against an in-form Uruguay, which has won all its matches so far, a feat only equalled by defending champion Argentina. A challenging match it may be, but it is a perfect opportunity for the Colombia captain to show that he can still perform on the big stage.

A win against Uruguay will pit him against defending champion Argentina in the summit clash. However, the world champion’s football has looked rusty throughout the campaign. Compare that with the electric football that Colombia is playing, a place in the final will put James in a prime position to win his first major international title and Colombia’s first since 2001.

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