By Mitch Phillips
RIO DE JANEIRO, June 28 (Reuters) - As expected, the yellow-shirted South Americans delivered a masterclass and threw in a spectacular goal to leave the Maracana rocking though it was not Brazil sashaying into the last eight in style but Colombia.
Saturday's 2-0 win over Uruguay sent them into the quarter-finals for the first time where they will face the hosts knowing that if they reproduce the free-running, high-scoring game that has brought them four wins so far they have nothing to fear.
"It's just like watching Brazil," is a common tongue-in-cheek appreciation of good football from fans of lesser clubs around the world but on Saturday at Brazil's spiritual home it really was - especially after the hosts looked anything but world champions-elect as they squeezed past Chile on penalties.
Colombia's enterprising progress is all the more surprising for the fact that they were supposed to have been holed below the water line when leading striker Radamel Falcao was ruled out of the World Cup two weeks before it started with a knee injury.
However, James Rodriguez has stepped up to the plate, and then some. Man of the match in the three games he has started, the 22-year-old number 10 sits proudly in front Neymar, Lionel Messi and Thomas Mueller as tournament top scorer with five.
His opening goal after 28 minutes on Saturday is a contender for the best in Brazil so far, a brilliant dipping volley in off the bar after he chested the ball down and spun on the edge of the box. However, his vital match-securing second five minutes into the second half summed up Colombia's approach perfectly.
Building patiently from the back with crisp passes, they worked space with their brand of confident, skilful football to send Pablo Armero overlapping down the left.
He swung in a deep cross but Juan Cuadrado, instead of going for long-shot glory, recognised that his angle was tight and instead nodded it back squarely into the path of Rodriguez who swept the ball home for a brilliant team goal.
That took Colombia's tournament tally to 11 - their nine in group play trailing only the Netherlands' 10 - and they were well-worth the two-goal lead.
In truth they threatened little before the goal but had been zipping the ball sweetly around the turf and forcing Uruguay into a series of ragged tackles and desperate fouls.
They took total command between the goals though and then felt confident enough in their defending to sit deep and absorb.
The 2010 semi-finalists will now follow Suarez home, bitter in defeat.
Colombia, who had not even made it to the tournament since 1998, will surf their own sea of yellow into uncharted waters. (Editing by Ken Ferris)
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