Not that there was any doubt but the 4-1 thumping of Japan rubberstamped Colombia’s top spot in the group, and now face Uruguay who took Italy by surprise this morning.
Roared on by a legion of fans in yellow, who were unencumbered by nerves with their progression assured, Colombia began the game brightly, with nine new starters from the previous game out to make an impression. Japan created the clearest opening of the early exchanges, however, with Makoto Hasebe’s raking pass picking out Yoshito Okubo, who turned Eder Balanta inside out before snatching his shot into a crowd of bodies.
The period of supremacy that followed for the Samurai Blue was fleeting, after Adrian Ramos was toppled by Yasuyuki Konno in the Japanese area following Martinez’s through-ball. Cuadrado stepped up and made no mistake from 12 yards.
With that early goal, any argument for cautious tactics from either side was largely null and void, and it showed. As Japan looked to hash out a reply, neat interplay between Okubo and Shinji Kagawa saw the Manchester United midfielder create space for himself well, before forcing David Ospina to dive low to his right with a mis-hit shot. Okubo, who was present during the side’s first meeting in the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2003, was looking confident, attempting an audacious overhead-kick following Atsuto Uchida’s cross.
With half-time beckoning, Jose Pekerman’s side should have all but ended Japan’s hopes. Santiago Aris released Ramos, who, with every right to shoot himself, squared to the unmarked Martinez, only to see the Porto star fluff his lines. And with the last touch of the half Japan were level. Honda cut inside from the right wing and delivered a delicate cross which found Okazaki, who had got goal-side of Carlos Valdes to head beyond Ospina.
The introduction of Rodriguez and Carlos Carbonero saw the South Americans emerge with bright intentions, with the former setting a few pulses racing as his shot from 20 yards was deflected narrowly wide after a promising run. His whipped free-kick from the left was then put over by the latter, when he arguably should have scored.
There was even time for history to be made as Faryd Mondragon took to the field to become the oldest player ever to appear at a FIFA World Cup. Arguably the biggest cheer of the night was when the 42-year-old Mondragon, in the squad for USA 1994 and France 1998, was brought on to become the oldest player ever to appear at a World Cup, eclipsing Roger Milla’s 24-year record. The veteran then got to see Rodriguez put the icing on the cake, as he danced past Maya Yoshida before elegantly chipping Kawashima.