SAMARA, Russia – Colombia’s joy at moving on to the knockout round at this World Cup was tempered by concern for their star from the last one.
James Rodriguez left in the 31st minute of the team’s 1-0 victory over Senegal on Thursday night.
The victory pushed the Colombians through to the round of 16 for the second straight World Cup. Los Cafeteros will play England on Tuesday in Moscow.
Immediately following the victory, the thoughts of many players and coach Jose Pekerman were with Rodriguez, the Bayern Munich attacking midfielder who has been bothered by a calf injury since the start of the tournament.
“I am very concerned; it is a situation for us,” Pekerman said. “He trained normally for us until yesterday. He was fully fit in training, and in the last training session there was no hint of any injury. Right now, I don’t know where he stands.”
Four years ago Colombia played to the quarterfinals, finally falling to Brazil. Rodriguez was the team’s star with six total goals, most of any player in the tournament.
He did not start in Los Cafeteros opener in Russia, playing the final 30 minutes of a 2-1 loss to Japan. He started in the second game, a 3-0 victory over Poland. He was named the man of the match for his two assists.
But he wasn’t very visible to start against Senegal, and by the 31st minute he was done. Teammate Radamel Falcao patted him on the back as he dolefully headed for the locker room, replaced by Luis Muriel.
Rodriguez, 26, has been with the national team since 2011. He has 21 goals in 66 international tournaments.
Thursday was the anniversary of Colombia’s 2-0 victory over Uruguay at Maracana Stadium in Brazil that sent Los Cafeteros into the quarterfinals. Rodriguez scored both goals, including one that was voted goal of the tournament.
The loss of Rodriguez, who goes by his first name, was a blow to the Colombians, who were already without Abel Aguilar because of an adductor injury that caused him to be stretched off the field against Poland. Aguilar’s status for the rest of the tournament is also unclear.
The yellow-clad fans that dominated the stands in Samara were not disappointed in the end. Yerry Mina lifted the team into the next round with a hard header that bounced off the ground and into the net. It was the second goal of the tournament for Mina, the 6-foot-5 Barcelona defender.
Senegal could not score despite a furious effort in the waning moments, and the victory put Colombia atop Group H with six points.
Japan finished second in the group with four points – same as Senegal. But Japan advanced because of the new “fair play” rule that rewards the team with fewer yellow and red cards. Japan had four yellows in the group stage, while Senegal had six.
“It’s too bad that James’ had to leave the match so early,” Mina said afterward. “He adds a lot of football and joy to our team. We are sad about this. We managed to overcome it and get a victory.”
Falcao said he wasn’t going to worry just yet about his former Monaco teammate.
“We’ll wait and see how he wakes up tomorrow,” Falcao said.
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