Rodriguez, Cavani cast off supporting roles
Rio de Janeiro: The absence of their team`s star strikers has allowed Colombia`s James Rodriguez and Uruguay`s Edinson Cavani to take centre-stage for Saturday`s World Cup last-16 clash in Rio de Janeiro.
Rodriguez has assumed responsibility for leading the Colombian attack after a knee injury robbed Colombia of his Monaco team-mate Radamel Falcao. Luis Suarez`s biting ban leaves Cavani carrying the burden of expectation for Uruguay.
Both players alighted in France`s Ligue 1 amid great fanfare a year ago, but while Cavani`s Paris Saint-Germain pipped Rodriguez`s Monaco to last season`s title, the boot has been on the other foot so far in Brazil.
Rodriguez scored in each of Colombia`s three victories over Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan and laid on three assists as his side swept into the last 16 for only the second time.
Blessed with a gloriously dextrous left foot, the 22-year-old -- also known as James (pronounced `HAM-es`) -- is an extravagantly gifted playmaker whose emergence as a world-class player has longed seemed a simple matter of time.
He made his professional debut for Colombian second-tier side Envigado when he was just 14 years old and scored the goal that gave Argentine club Banfield their first ever league title at the age of 17.
Former Colombia coach Bolillo Gomez described him as "the number 10 that Colombia has been waiting for".
Rodriguez`s performances in his country`s colours have prompted comparisons with Colombia`s last great playmaker, Carlos Valderrama, who captained the team that reached the last 16 at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
He is not the first talented young Colombian to be identified as the heir apparent to `El Pibe` (The Kid), but in this instance, Valderrama has given the comparisons his personal seal of approval.
"Colombia doesn`t need a new `El Pibe` anymore because James is that `kid` that the national team has been missing in recent years," Valderrama said in 2011.
"James has the potential to be the greatest Colombian player to have ever lived, and perhaps one of the greatest to have ever played the game."
Rodriguez`s 45 million euros ($61 million) move to Monaco from Porto made him the second most expensive Colombian player in history behind Falcao (60 million euros), but both transfers were eclipsed by Cavani`s switch to Paris from Napoli for 64 million euros.
The most expensive player in Ligue 1 history, Cavani enjoyed a fine start to his maiden season at Parc des Princes, only for his form to fall away in the second half of the campaign.
Although he scored both goals as Paris sank Lyon in the French League Cup final in April, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic established as the team`s number-one striker, he found himself exiled on the right flank in Laurent Blanc`s 4-3-3 system.
"For a forward used to scoring who now has to do defensive tasks, it is not easy," he admitted earlier this year.
The straggly-haired 27-year-old has also endured turmoil in his private life, divorcing his wife last year shortly after she gave birth to his second son.
The matter obliged him to make a number of mid-season trips to Uruguay, but he ended the campaign with a smile, telling PSG`s fans "see you next season" at the club`s Ligue 1 trophy presentation party.
Cavani has not found the net at the World Cup since opening the scoring with a penalty in his side`s 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, but at the Maracana on Saturday he will have the main central striking role that he craves.
Rodriguez, however, will be determined to make sure that he does not keep all the limelight to himself.