Let’s rewind to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, particularly the round of 16 clash between Colombia and Uruguay. James Rodríguez stole the limelight. Colombia emerged victorious with a 2-0 scoreline, and Rodríguez netted both goals, with his first strike being voted as the tournament’s best goal and subsequently winning the Puskás Award. Rodríguez was positioned 25 yards away from Uruguay’s goal when he deftly controlled a header from Juan Cuadrado on his chest, pivoted, and fired an unstoppable shot past Fernando Muslera without even glancing at the goal.

In the decade since then, the two teams have faced off six times, with Colombia securing victory only once – and that too, via penalties. Uruguay has generally held the upper hand, and Marcelo Bielsa’s squad has shown strong form at the Copa América, triumphing in all three group stage matches before defeating Brazil in the quarter-finals. Their performance in World Cup qualifying has been equally impressive, defeating powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina, aiming to clinch their 16th Copa América title, which would reinstate their status as the tournament’s most decorated team.

However, there’s a foreboding sense for Uruguay heading into this semi-final, largely due to Rodríguez’s current form. The 32-year-old is playing at a level reminiscent of his 2014 peak, a year that saw his World Cup performances lead to a £63 million transfer from Monaco to Real Madrid, making him the fourth most expensive footballer in history after Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Luis Suárez. His standout displays back then sparked the famous headline: “The name is Bond, James Rodríguez.” His resurgence this year greatly enhances Colombia’s prospects of reaching their third Copa América final.

Rodríguez operates from a wide starting position in Néstor Lorenzo’s favored 4-3-3 system for Colombia. While he nominally lines up on the right flank, he enjoys the freedom to roam and impact the game wherever he sees fit. Unlike Luis Díaz, who has specific duties on the left, Rodríguez often cuts inside to receive the ball, allowing attack-minded full-back Daniel Muñoz the chance to overlap and provide width down the right.

It’s in midfield where Rodríguez truly shines for Colombia. With the liberty to drift leftwards or drop deep to collect possession, it’s no surprise he has completed 170 passes – more than any other forward in the tournament. His 35 successful long passes are second only to Brazil’s Marquinhos. Rodríguez serves as the team’s primary playmaker, utilizing his vision and precision to quickly propel Colombia forward. He has completed 87 passes in the opponent’s half and 41 within the final third – leading all Colombia players in both categories.

His quality was evident in the quarter-final rout of Panama, where he orchestrated the opening goal with a perfectly placed corner, scored the second with a powerful penalty, and quickly delivered a free-kick to set up Díaz’s lobbed finish for Colombia’s third goal, effectively sealing the match within 40 minutes. Rodríguez boasts five assists in the tournament – more than any other player – and tops the charts for goal involvements (six) and key passes (14).

Admittedly, seven of Colombia’s 11 tournament goals have come from set pieces, underscoring the importance of Rodríguez’s delivery in tight contests. Despite Panama registering more shots than Colombia in their quarter-final, they lacked Rodríguez’s pinpoint distribution. His contributions were pivotal in Colombia generating a higher xG (expected goals) of 2.33 compared to Panama’s 0.87, despite fewer shot attempts.

What’s particularly impressive is Rodríguez’s continued excellence for Colombia amidst a peripatetic club career. Leading into the Copa América, he had only played 36 minutes in the Brasileirao for São Paulo FC this season. Over recent years, the 32-year-old has drifted across clubs, spending time with Al-Rayyan and Olympiakos following his departure from Everton in 2021, without establishing a long-term home. Yet whenever Colombia beckons, Rodríguez invariably steps up.

All eyes are now on the semi-final showdown against Uruguay at North Carolina’s Bank of America Stadium. This presents a significant opportunity for Colombia, who are unbeaten in 27 matches spanning two years, with their captain in peak form. Colombia have claimed the Copa América title only once in their history, 23 years ago on home soil. They finished fourth in 2004, third in 2016, and third again in 2021. Based on current form, Uruguay should hold no fear for them, nor should Argentina if they reach this weekend’s final. With Rodríguez channeling his 2014 prowess, Colombia could be on the brink of a second Copa América triumph.