Today’s World Cup qualifier in Barranquilla was a complete stalemate thanks to a disciplined Chilean barricade and a largely unimaginative Colombian attack which found it difficult to find the net without their goalscoring ace Carlos Bacca.
From the get-go, James Rodriguez was deployed as a left midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 - though, admittedly, other outlets had him listed as the CAM just behind Miguel Borja. It didn’t matter a whole lot, to be sure. Though he spent the opening stretch of the match on the left flank, it wasn’t his mainstay, and soon it was apparent that James had all the freedom to drift throughout multiple channels for the entire game.
James hovered between both flanks, dropped back as a deep-lying creator, and spent quite some time playing through the centrum - attacking the throat of Chile’s defense. In other words, he was everywhere. And on a night where Chile’s defensive line regularly saw six players form a bulwark in front of Claudio Bravo, pretty well anything and everything that Colombia were able to create came through James.
In the first half, he slung in two perfect set-pieces - one in the 37th minute, and the other just before the stroke of half-time. Both led to clear-cut chances, and both were brilliantly saved by Claudio Bravo.
In the 2nd half, James was more involved in the general flow of the match, as opposed to the first half where he was forced into playing long passes due to Colombia’s disjointed spacing offensively. After the break - which saw the much-anticipated and long awaited return of Radamel Falcao - James was more dynamic, had a couple mazy runs with the ball, dispossessed Arturo Vidal brilliantly in the attacking third, played some looping balls in the area, and even tested goalkeeper Johnny Herrera (Bravo was taken off due to injury) from distance.
But again, breaking through this unyielding Chilean defense was a tall task. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men refused to expose any holes, and were relentless in closing down passing lanes in the final third while swarming attackers - thwarting any shots before they reached daylight. In one instance, Falcao found himself in the penalty area, managing to maneuver himself around two defenders, but was immediately closed down by another two which prevented him from releasing a shot on goal.
And usually, when players are swarmed like that, it means other outlets manifest themselves somewhere on the pitch, but to reiterate, Colombia’s attacked looked so disconnected that it was only ever going to score from a moment of individual brilliance.
On the flipside, Chile were playing without the injured Alexis Sanchez which rendered their attack quite toothless. And that’s fine, for them. They played to their strengths and put in a brilliant shift defensively while pragmatically venturing forward. I should add that their attacks were very pragmatic. Chile had just five shots compared to Colombia’s 20, and had just two clear-cut chances to score all match - one in each half.
Colombia now sit third in the South American table - a point ahead of Ecuador with a game in hand. Marcelo’s Brazil, meanwhile, sit top, and have a crucial match against Argentina tonight.