Bayern Munich’s James Rodriguez could be in for another great World Cup

LIMA, PERU - OCTOBER 10: James Rodriguez of Colombia looks on during match between Peru and Colombia as part of FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers at National Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez/Getty Images)
LIMA, PERU - OCTOBER 10: James Rodriguez of Colombia looks on during match between Peru and Colombia as part of FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers at National Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez/Getty Images) /

Coming off a good year with Bayern Munich, what does 2014 World Cup Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez have in store for Russia?

When last we saw James Rodríguez in the World Cup, he was just entering the upper echelon of players in the world. His Colombia National Team had outscored other teams in their group nine to two. They then put away Uruguay 2-0 in the round of 16 to reach the country’s first ever World Cup quarter-final. James had scored in every game of the tournament to that point, the first to do so since Ronaldo and Rivaldo for Brazil in 2002.

The Colombians’ run ended with a 2-1 loss to Brazil, with James scoring the lone goal for Los Cafeteros. It was a magical Cup run that saw James, then playing for AS Monaco, win the Golden Boot (six goals), the FIFA Puskás Award for his amazing volley against Uruguay, and receive an endorsement from Diego Maradona for the Golden Ball award.

While he was known across Europe from his time at Porto, his 2014 World Cup made him a worldwide star. His performance drew the eye of Real Madrid, who spent a transfer fee of £63 million to lure him away from Monaco. His time in Madrid saw him score 36 goals in 110 appearances, while playing time became harder to come by. He requested a loan away from Madrid and Bayern Munich secured his services on a two-year loan with the option to buy.

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After a slow start under Carlo Ancelotti, James rediscovered his world-class form when Jupp Heynckes took over.

Looking forward to Russia, we can see James poised to be a top player in the tournament yet again. After just one goal and an assist prior to the sacking of Ancelotti, largely due to injury, the Colombian finished with eight goals and 13 assists across all competitions. With three goals and eight assists since March 18th, his trajectory is clearly toward the top.

As the main man in his national side, fans ought to be excited with what they see. When on his game, James is capable of carrying his teams to new heights. Now fully healthy, James should remind us all why he was quite possibly the best player in the 2014 tournament.

James can play nearly any position in the midfield, wings or forward positions. That versatility allows him to deploy his excellent passing and playmaking skills and take advantage of areas where the opposition is weak. He has strong finishing skills (see Golden Boot 2014) and should ultimately be in the running for player of the tournament again.

How far can Colombia go?

In Group H, Colombia will match up against Japan, Senega, and Poland. While they might be the most well-known of the group, the other teams do not lack star power. Bayern Munich and Poland striker Robert Lewandowski, Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Borussia Dortmund’s Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa — along with Keisuke Honda — should all make this an exciting group to watch.

Los Cafeteros appear to have the strongest squad, with players such as Zapata, Murillo and Sanchez in defense, James, Juan Cuadrado, Mateus Uribe in the midfield and Radamel Falcao and Carlos Bacca up top. Each of the others in the group might have better individual players at certain positions, but Colombia’s depth, passion and teamwork give them a leg up.

No other country has James, either. Colombia’s number 10 is the best player in the group and makes everything happen for Colombia. With all due respect to Mane and Lewandowski, James is consistently elite, especially for his national side.

Predictions for the group stage:

June 19

Colombia (FIFA ranking: 16) takes on Japan (ranking: 60) first. While I think Japan could surprise some people, I’m picking the Tricolors to win 3-1.

June 24

Next up is Poland (ranked 10). The greatest strength of the Poles is probably in defense, where they have an excellent stable of goalies and players like Grzegorz Krychowiak covering in midfield. Lewandowski is by far the most dominant presence up front in the group, and Colombia could struggle to score if Poland gains a lead. It remains to be seen, however, whether Poland can give Lewy the service he needs to score enough against their opponents. I predict a 1-1 draw in a great match.

June 28

Finally, Colombia takes on Senegal (ranked 26), which should be a fun match between two teams with a good amount of speed and fun players. Colombia is too strong for the Lions of Teranga, though, and will win 4-2.

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Conclusion and Bold Prediction

James’ form had been on the rise as the club season drew to a close, and I see no reason that won’t continue in Russia. I’m predicting Colombia to make the semi-final this time around, as I think James is poised for a great tournament. He has been a bit under the radar since injuries and lack of playing time hurt his game at Real Madrid, but this is one of the top 10 players in the world. If I’m calling my shot, and I am, Colombia will be in the semi-final and James will win the Golden Ball.