James Rodríguez has been one of the players of the tournament at Copa America 2024. Ten years on from winning the World Cup Golden Boot award, can the Colombia captain lead them to a second continental title?

Colombia have only ever won one Copa America title. That win, back in 2001, might come with an asterisk for some South American fans, however.

Hosted in Colombia, the tournament was briefly postponed in response to a series of bombings in major cities and the kidnapping of Colombian Football Federation vice-president Hernán Mejía Campuzano.

When the postponement was reversed a few days later, Argentina refused to send a team to compete, claiming their players had received death threats purported to be from local rebel groups.

Furthermore, Canada also decided against taking up their spot in the competition, while several of the biggest teams involved suggested even before the initial postponement that they’d not be sending full-strength selections anyway.

Nevertheless, Colombia took advantage of being the hosts and the absence of Argentina, plus the surprise exit of Brazil to Honduras in the quarter-finals. They won all six games at Copa America 2001, including a 1-0 victory in the final over Mexico thanks to Iván Córdoba’s 65th-minute strike.

The golden era of Colombian football came in the late 1980s and 90s when players such as Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincón, Faustino Asprilla and René Higuita became household names across the world with their fast-paced, free-flowing football.

Arguably their most famous victory came when they hammered a great Argentina side 5-0 away in Buenos Aires in September 1993 to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, with Rincón and Asprilla grabbing two goals apiece, and another talented forward of the time, Adolfo Valencia, completing the rout.

That team failed to win anything, however. Successive third-place finishes at the Copa America in 1993 and 1995 was the best they could achieve, losing in the semi-finals to the eventual winners in both editions.

Colombia National Football Team 1994

Unfortunately for the Colombian national team, the volatile situation back home often overshadowed their performances on the pitch during this period, and a stark reminder of those troubles came following the World Cup in 1994 when defender Andrés Escobar was assassinated in Medellín just 10 days after scoring an own goal versus the United States that contributed to their tournament exit.

That victory in 2001 wasn’t exactly the start of a new era of glory, though. While another run to the semis followed in 2004, they didn’t get beyond the last eight in three successive Copa campaigns after that, and they were unsuccessful in attempts to qualify for the World Cup in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

But Colombia have gradually improved since then. Third-place finishes at Copa America in 2016 and 2021 followed an excellent showing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by the hosts.

Back then, James Rodríguez took centre stage, and 10 years later he’s the star of the Colombian show again.

James Rodriquez Copa America

It’s been a strange 10 years for Rodríguez since he won the Golden Boot with his six goals at the 2014 World Cup. His international success, coupled with a great season in Ligue 1 at Monaco, led to a move to Real Madrid for what, at the time, was the fourth-most expensive transfer fee in history – approximately £63 million.

Handed the number 10 shirt, he was brought in to help Real Madrid get back to being the top side in Spain after two unsuccessful La Liga campaigns. Overall, the 2014-15 season was a personal success, and despite a spell out injured with a metatarsal injury, he posted 13 goals and 13 assists in just 29 league appearances.

Across that campaign, he was only one of five players to play at least 1,000 La Liga minutes and average a goal involvement better than one every 90 minutes (88 mins), while he made the Team of the Season and was named as the league’s best midfielder.

However, inability to win a ‘meaningful’ trophy – they did win the UEFA Super Cup, the Supercopa de España and FIFA Club World Cup, but failed in their quest for the league title, were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League in the semi-finals and lost in the Copa del Rey round of 16 – meant that Rodríguez was part of a side that was labelled as a failure.

The following two seasons at Madrid saw injuries limit his playing time, with just 30 starts across their 76 La Liga matches in that period. However, he still put in a worthy contribution for both Rafael Benítez and Zinedine Zidane, scoring 19 goals and providing 22 assists in all competitions across just 3,682 minutes on the pitch – an average of a goal involvement every 90 minutes. The 2016-17 campaign also brought success, as Real regained their La Liga crown and won the Champions League.

In search of more regular playing time in the season before the 2018 World Cup, Rodríguez joined Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal. Across his two seasons at Bayern, injuries once again meant playing time was restricted, and he appeared for just 2,767 minutes across the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Bundesliga campaigns – less than half the possible minutes (45%). He still managed 28 goal involvements in that period (14 goals, 14 assists), however, a tally only beaten by two teammates, which helped them to the Bundesliga title in both of his seasons in Germany.

After a brief return to Real Madrid, where he helped them to another league title, a shock move to Everton in the Premier League reunited him with Carlo Ancelotti. After three goals and four assists in his first seven games in England, his form dropped off; he was involved in just seven more competitive goals at the club in his next 19 matches.

Moves to Qatari side Al-Rayyan and Greek club Olympiacos failed to bring much joy for either Rodríguez or his club, before he returned to South America to sign for Brazilian team São Paulo last summer.

For a career that looked so promising 10 years ago for a 22-year-old Rodríguez, his late 20s and early 30s have been a disappointment.

However, his performances at Copa America 2024 have made people sit up and take notice once again.

Colombia go into their Copa America 2024 semi-final tie with Uruguay in sensational form.

They are now 27 games unbeaten in all competitions (W21 D6), with their last defeat coming in February 2022 against Argentina in a World Cup qualifier. Across that run, they’ve outscored their opponents 54-16, with 11 of their goals coming in this tournament. That tally has equalled their highest scoring record in a single edition of the Copa America, previously achieved in 1975 and 2001.

Pre-tournament friendly thrashings of the United States (5-1) and Bolivia (3-0) raised hopes of a successful tournament, but winning Group D ahead of Brazil has really got Colombians dreaming of a second Copa America crown.

While the other three semi-finalists needed penalty shootouts to advance to the final four, Colombia – albeit against arguably the weakest opponents – hammered Panama 5-0 with ease.

Colombia 5-0 Panama Copa America 2024

Colombia’s main strength has come from set-pieces at this tournament, with Rodríguez’s pinpoint accuracy from corners and free-kicks key to their success.

Four of their 11 goals have been from corners or indirect free-kicks, with three directly assisted by their 32-year-old captain. Two of those came in the quarter-final win over Panama, with Rodríguez’s delivery finding Jhon Córdoba’s head in the eighth minute before his quick free-kick caught Panama’s defence sleeping and Luis Díaz was able to chip the goalkeeper to make it 3-0. Those goals came either side of a penalty by Rodríguez himself.

Colombia Corners at Copa America 2024
James Rodriguez Set Pieces

Rodríguez’s ability to cause chaos with his corner delivery is shown by the fact that his xG assisted figure of 0.9 from corners alone at this Copa America is four times that of any other player.

Six of his 14 corners have seen a teammate have a shot as the next involvement, while the story from his free-kick deliveries is much the same. No player has created as many chances from indirect free-kicks as the Colombian star (4), while only Lionel Messi (1.21) has a higher xG assisted total from these situations than him (0.47).

The majority of Rodríguez’s creative threat is from his set-piece delivery, with only four chances created from open play at this tournament and an xG assisted figure of 0.39 – a total that 27 different players have exceeded.

That’s not to say that his involvement in open play isn’t crucial, though. No teammate has completed as many passes in the opposition’s half at this tournament as Rodríguez (87) nor has anyone completed as many inside the final third (41).

James Rodriguez Passing Copa America 2024

Overall, Rodríguez has provided five assists at Copa América 2024. One more assist will make him the first player to surpass this figure in a single edition since these records began in 2011, breaking the current record he shares with Messi (5 in 2021).

With the semi-final against Uruguay to be followed by either the final or the third-place play-off, he has at least two more games to break this record. He’s also two off the record tally of chances created from set-pieces at a single Copa America in this period, as well – Diego Forlán’s 12 in 2011.

The previous Copa America edition in 2021 saw Colombia beat Uruguay on penalties at the quarter-final stage, before losing to Argentina in the semi-finals following a shootout. There’s every chance the 2024 edition could pan out in the same way, with the potential of facing Argentina in the final if they can knock out the Uruguayans.

The difference maker this time around could be their captain. Left out of Colombia’s 2021 squad due to fitness issues, he’s now in with a strong shout of finishing the 2024 edition as player of the tournament, 10 years on from winning the same award at the World Cup. But for Rodríguez, personal accolades will mean little if he can’t help his nation to the trophy on 14 July.

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