World Cup: Colombia through as Group C winners after victory over Japan
Last Updated: 25/06/14 7:28am
Jackson Martinez helped fire Colombia into the last 16 of the World Cup as Group C winners after a 4-1 victory over Japan in Cuiaba.
The South American nation were already assured of progress after defeating Ivory Coast and Greece and their third successive triumph sets up a second round meeting with Group D runners up Uruguay, while Japan finished bottom of the pile.
There was also a piece of history in the closing moments at the Arena Pantanal as Jose Pekerman sent on 43-year-old goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon for an emotional farewell outing for his country, making him the oldest player ever to appear in the World Cup finals, beating the record of Cameroon legend Roger Milla.
Pekerman’s side took the lead at the Arena Pantanal from the penalty spot in the 17th minute after Yasuyuki Konno foolishly felled Adrian Ramos, with Juan Cuadrado stepping up to calmly beat Eiji Kawashima.
Japan hauled themselves level seconds before the interval as Shinji Okazaki converted an excellent diving header from Keisuke Honda’s cross after getting in front of his man in the box.
But Martinez then restored Colombia’s advantage early in the second half as he drilled home with the aid of slight deflection after a wonderfully disguised pass from substitute James Rodriguez.
Martinez added a third on the break eight minutes from time and Rodriguez, who had joined the fray at the interval, completed the scoring with an impudent shimmy and chip.
Rodriguez enhanced his growing reputation with an influential display. The Monaco playmaker was initially rested with qualification assured but his introduction at half-time added a touch of class as his side raced clear after the break.
Japan needed a win to stand a chance of progressing and so understandably began positively but found themselves behind after 17 minutes.
Martinez's through-ball sent Ramos running into the penalty area and Konno's decision to attempt to challenge a player heading away from goal proved to be a disastrous one as he failed to get anywhere near the ball.
Cuadrado, the 26-year-old Fiorentina winger, smashed home the penalty, to seemingly put his side in control.
But Japan bounced back with Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who returned after being dropped for the goalless draw against Greece, forcing David Ospina into a low save after cutting back onto his right foot and Honda whipped a left-footed free-kick just past the goalkeeper's left-hand post.
Just before half-time Porto striker Martinez had a chance to make things comfortable but bundled a ball from Ramos wide and that proved costly as with the final touch of the half Okazaki headed in at the near post from Honda's cross.
Cuadrado was replaced by Colombia's other stand-out performer Rodriguez for the start of the second half and his early free-kick was ballooned over by fellow half-time substitute Carlos Carbonero.
Rodriguez's next contribution was more telling, however, as his neat control and lay-off inside the penalty area took two Japan defenders out of the game to open the way for Martinez to fire past Kawashima.
Eder Balanta, one of eight changes with Colombia already guaranteed a place in the knockout stage, was lucky to escape punishment after his flailing arm into the face of Okazaki drew blood while Yoshito Okubo blazing over from eight yards merely drew anger and frustration from team-mates and fans alike.
Japan were put out of their misery eight minutes from time when Rodriguez again provided the assist with a brilliant through-ball on a swift counter-attack for Martinez's second.
With the game safe Colombia coach Pekerman bowed to sentimentality and brought on Mondragon for his first appearance in a competitive international for nine years to beat the record of Milla.
Rodriguez capped a brilliant 45-minute cameo with a cute finish in added time.