By Brian Homewood
BRASILIA, June 24 (Reuters) - Colombia's James Rodriguez needed only 45 minutes to dismantle Japan with one of the best individual performances of the World Cup, including a sublime dinked goal that Lionel Messi would have been proud of.
With the Colombians already qualified for the last 16, Rodriguez was one of eight players rested by coach Jose Pekerman for the match in Cuiaba and he sat out the first half.
After coming on at halftime with the score at 1-1, he guided Colombia to a 4-1 win with an electric performance which suggested the 22-year-old has the potential to become one of the world's top players.
The left-footed Monaco midfielder was also one step ahead of the opposition as he set up two goals for Jackson Martinez before capping the performance with his own masterpiece.
He had only been on the pitch for 10 minutes when he collected a pass from Santiago Arias on the edge of the area and, despite being surrounded by four Japan defenders, managed to evade one tackle and flick a pass for Martinez to drive home.
He bamboozled the Japan defence again when he collected a pass just inside their half, gave the impression he was going to cut inside but instead rolled the ball into space for Martinez to convert the third.
The highlight was still to come as Rodriguez was sent clear down the left by a Martinez pass. Faced by Maya Yoshida, he went inside and then outside his bewildered marker and finished it off with a Messi-style dink over Eiji Kawashima.
Generally, the reserves acquitted themselves well, showing that Colombia, who have barely noticed the absence of injured striker Radamel Falcao, have plenty of strength in depth.
Martinez, the Portuguese league's leading scorer this season, made up for a bad first-half miss with two well-taken goals and Adrian Ramos, the other forward, won the penalty for Juan Cuadrado to score the opening goal.
Fredy Guarin was assured in midfield and full back Santiago Arias gave Colombia plenty of attacking options down the right.
The only letdown was attacking midfielder Juan Quintero who allowed too many attacks to break down by trying to go it alone and was substituted at halftime.
Overall, it was another eye-catching performance from the Colombians, a vibrant team with pace, skill and invention who are enjoying their best-ever World Cup and topped Group C with maximum points and nine goals scored.
With Cuadrado and Rodriguez on song in midfield, a first World Cup quarter-final looks well within their grasp and they could go further still if they can plug a somewhat suspect-looking defence. (Editing by Ed Osmond)