By Karolos Grohmann
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil, June 28 (Reuters) - Colombia's sensational midfielder James Rodriguez struck twice in a 2-0 win over Uruguay in the last 16 on Saturday to move top of the World Cup scorers list and stake a claim for player of the tournament.
When Colombia arrived in Brazil without injured key forward Radamel Falcao, few would have counted on baby-faced Rodriguez, who has now scored in each of his team's three group games and their knockout match, to successfully replace him.
But he has taken the tournament by storm, netting five times already and winning man-of-the-match awards in his opening two games as Colombia set up a mouthwatering quarter-final against hosts Brazil on Friday.
It seems Rodriguez was made for the biggest stage of all and, with the player turning 23 the day before the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro, few would now bet against him giving himself the greatest belated birthday present.
Apart from scoring, Rodriguez has also delivered two assists for his team mates as the South Americans are hitting top form at just the right time, thanks largely to him.
On Saturday he stunned fans at the Maracana stadium and millions of television viewers when he thundered in an unstoppable volley to give Colombia the lead while surrounded by five Uruguay players.
He followed that up with a smart close-range finish early in the second half to banish any lingering thoughts about the missing Falcao as Colombia made the last eight for the first.
The left-footed Monaco midfielder, who is married to Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina's sister, had kicked off his first World Cup in style when he led Colombia to a 3-0 romp over Greece, scoring in the process.
He was again on target in their 2-1 win over Ivory Coast before needing just 45 minutes off the bench to help take Japan apart in their final group game.
After coming on at halftime, with the score at 1-1, he guided his team to a 4-1 win with an electric performance that suggested he has the potential to become one of the world's top players.
He was one step ahead of the Japanese as he set up two goals for Jackson Martinez before capping the performance with his own masterpiece in the final minute.
After cutting his teeth in Europe with Portugal's Porto for three years he joined wealthy French side AS Monaco in 2013 for 45 million euros ($61.27 million).
After his performances in Brazil so far Europe's big clubs would no doubt love to add him to their ranks though Monaco have no need to sell the man who could be player of the tournament.
($1 = 0.7345 Euros) (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Ken Ferris)