James Rodríguez Helps Lead Colombia to Victory Over Panama in Copa America Quarterfinals

James Rodríguez has helped lead Colombia to the Copa America semifinals…

The 32-year-old Colombian professional footballer has continued his renaissance at the tournament with his one-goal, two-assist performance on Saturday, which catapulted his country past Panama 5-0 and into the semifinals.

James Rodriguez

He was already sitting on three assists in this tournament when he got to work against the Canaleros, delivering an inch-perfect delivery from a corner for defender Jhon Córdoba to nod home in the eighth minute.

Rodriguez found the net himself from a 15th-minute penalty after Colombia midfielder Jhon Arias was upended by Panama keeper Orlando Mosquera.

Rodriguez’s most inspired moment came just four minutes before halftime. Noticing that the Panamanian defense was standing flat-footed, he took a quick free kick over the top of the defense that found Luis Díaz in the clear, and the Liverpool man then delivered a superb lofted finish four yards outside the penalty area to extend Colombia’s lead.

When Rodriguez exited the match in the 73rd minute, it was to a standing ovation, with the midfielder applauding the fans back.

“I always try to help my teammates so that they can play well and I congratulate them for playing well,” Rodriguez said via a translator. He added, “We’re all going through a good moment. We’re doing goals from set pieces, from penalties and planned plays which is a good thing.”

When asked if he’s been the best player at the Copa América, Rodriguez said, “There’s still a lot of time. There’s two games left with what we want to achieve and all I want to do is win, so there’s a lot left.”

There is a temptation to simply write off Rodriguez’s performance as coming against an overmatched opponent. It was after all Colombia’s biggest margin of victory ever in a Copa América match. But try telling that to the U.S. men’s national team, who fell to Panama in the group stage. While the talent gap between the two teams on this day was clear, a team with that edge is still obligated to use it to its full advantage, and that’s what Rodriguez and the rest of his teammates did.

For Colombia manager Nestor Lorenzo, there’s no mystery as to why Rodriguez is hitting top form in this tournament.

“He’s a good player,” Lorenzo said simply about Rodriguez. “He’s a player that is happy inside the field. The coach just sees how to put him [on the field so he can] enjoy.”

Regardless of how or why, Rodriguez finding joy on the field again is clear, and his performance on Saturday put him in some select company. He’s now tied with Lionel Messi for the most assists in a single Copa América since 2011 (a period that spans five tournaments) with five.

His eight assists over that period are second only to Messi’s 17. Rodríguez’s 11 goal contributions (three goals, eight assists) over the last five Copa América tournaments put him in third place behind Eduardo Vargas‘ 14 and Messi’s 25.

Now Colombia finds itself in the semifinals of the Copa América for the third time in the last four editions. But it is at this stage that the Cafeteros usually stumble. Two early goals conceded in the semifinals against Chile eliminated Colombia back in 2016, when Lorenzo just so happened to be an assistant coach on Colombia’s staff. A penalty shootout defeat to Argentina five years later caused even more angst. It has also been 23 long years since Colombia claimed its only Copa América, a tournament that it hosted.

It is that history, which explains why Rodriguez is taking nothing for granted. “We’re doing all our best so we can win. We have the hardest matches left,” said.

If Rodriguez can keep up his current form, those challenges will become a lot easier.

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