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RIO DE JANEIRO, June 28 (Reuters) - Sensational Colombia 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 being player of the tournament.
When Colombia arrived in Brazil without injured forward and talisman Radamel Falcao, few would have counted on baby-faced Rodriguez, who has now scored in all four games at the tournament, to successfully replace him.
But he has taken the World Cup by storm, netting five times and winning three man-of-the-match awards as Colombia advanced to a mouth-watering quarter-final against hosts Brazil on Friday.
"Maradona, Messi, Suarez, James Rodriguez, they do things because they have certain gifts that make them special," Uruguay coch Oscar Tabarez told reporters.
"It is not up to me to say but I believe from what I have see that he is the best player in the World Cup. I am not exaggerating, he is a great player. Football needs players with these characteristics."
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.
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 World Cup's last eight for the first time.
The left-footed Monaco attacking 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 club AS Monaco in 2013 for 45 million euros ($61.27 million).
After his performances in Brazil Europe's big clubs would no doubt love to add him to their ranks, though Monaco have no need to sell the man who is already looking forward to playing Brazil.
"There is no pressure," he said. "Obviously we have to be careful. They have great players and we will have to watch them closely but we have good players and we can make things dangerous for them.
"It's going to be a beautiful game and a beautiful one to play in," he added. "I just want to help Colombia go far."
($1 = 0.7345 Euros) (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann,; editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation
- James Rodriguez
- Radamel Falcao