Sunday's match was as important as a final, and that was how Colombia played it.
Strong on all their lines, they fought when they needed to fight in their 3-0 win over Poland, and played when they needed to play.
Jose Pekerman's men had a rough start but they never truly suffered and, except for the first 10 minutes, they always had the game under control -- even more so after Yerry Mina's goal. And in the second half, further goals boosted their confidence. When Colombia are playing well, they can be one of the World Cup's finest teams.
Their attitude and their excellent individual and collective response after their opening loss. In Kazan, we saw a completely different team; self-assured, confident, and aware of when to fight and when to play. With the help of some brilliant individual performances, they had an outstanding collective performance and deserved their landslide win against an opponent who proved to be substandard when Colombia dominated the game. Tricolor star James Rodriguez's recovery also calls for a celebration.
Almost nothing. David Ospina's limp gave reason for concern late in the game, and Abel Aguilar's injury is also troubling. As to the game, it ended up being an almost perfect match for Colombia, who should aim at repeating this performance.
Manager rating (1-10; 10 = best)
8 -- Pekerman read the match perfectly, both before and during the game. His center-back duo was a peculiar choice with two young players, but Davinson Sanchez and Mina rose to the occasion. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado's position was also interesting at the back. When Aguilar got injured, Pekerman decided to introduce Mateus Uribe, and the America player energized his teammates. Carlos Sanchez's replacement, Wilmar Barrios, was one of Colombia's key men. This was a huge success for Colombia's manager, the first Argentine coach to win in this World Cup.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David Ospina, 8 -- He spared Colombia with a spectacular save against Robert Lewandowski one-on-one after a long assist when his side was up 1-0. That save was worth a goal. He never lost focus and provided security, and he even compromised his physical safety without hesitating.
DF Santiago Arias, 7 -- A huge step up in his performance after a weak game against Japan, especially in defense. Cuadrado's help when running back spared him from one-on-one contests.
DF Yerry Mina, 8 -- One of Colombia's finest players. Pekerman chose him to improve their air game and the Barcelona player not only did that, but was also strong defending and confident in attack. His strike was a sign that his contributions can be vital in both areas. He's come to stay in Colombia's starting team.
DF Davinson Sanchez, 6 -- Like Arias, on Sunday his level was considerably higher than in the opener. He was focused and confident with Mina at his side and played without complications. He made several challenges in attack and won almost all of them. Colombia need him like this.
DF Johan Mojica, 5 -- One of the weakest members of the team. He went forward well, unmarked, but he didn't participate much. At times, he looked overawed. He didn't look confident in the defensive department, and he wasn't accurate with his passes. His strength was his speed to recover when his rivals counterattacked.
MF Wilmar Barrios, 7 -- As the match progressed, he began to feel more comfortable and he did a good job replacing Sanchez. He knew were to stand and his passes were respectable. He moved with clarity and he served well down the middle. He was quick and very attentive during the exchanges. His only low has been some physical weakness on one-on-one confrontations.
MF Abel Aguilar, 5 -- He played 30 minutes and was later replaced due to injury. He wasn't in charge of the first pass as it was expected, and he missed several times when he intended to finish. That being said, he tried to run some risks and moved the ball forward. He stepped on the area and he almost connected a great pass toward Juan Fernando Quintero.
MF Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, 9 -- The star of the game. He delivered in two different ways: Both in the attacking and the defensive zones. Colombia played several times with a back-line of five, and thanks to his efforts, Santiago Arias was a little relieved. Even though he was worried looking over his shoulders, when he advanced, he showed his best side: His fakes and his sprints. He appeared in the worst moment of the first period and he delivered with a superb goal.
MF James Rodriguez, 8 -- Every time he touches the ball, everything changes. He is physically impeccable and he showed why he is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle in Pekerman´s squad. His cross to find Mina was key for the first goal in a very hard-fought game. He ran a lot and he played along Quintero throughout the match. In the second half, he simply excelled. He even got enough time to whip the fans into a frenzy.
MF Juan Fernando Quintero, 8 -- Once more, his performance was colossal. He knows absolutely everything. When the team played following this own rhythm, Poland had no choice but to become a bystander. By trying constantly to make the perfect pass, from his assist, he left Falcao alone with the goal. His touches became more and more accurate as the game progressed. So far, he is the best Colombian player in this competition. And one of the best in this World Cup.
FW Radamel Falcao Garcia, 7 -- He sure had his best chance after a sensational assist from Quintero and he didn't miss it. He scored the World Cup goal he had been expecting throughout his entire life. He showed the purest effort before, during and after the game. He pivoted well and he was a constant threat to his rivals. He may be a bit slow in the finishing zone, but his presence and his skills to hold the ball have been essential.
MF Mateus Uribe, 8 -- Brought on after 30 minutes for Aguilar. He was a game changer, very energetic from one area to the other. He passed his enthusiasm on to the rest of the group and he was able to break down the middle. He showed why everybody had been asking for him to start.
MF Jefferson Lerma, 6 -- He substituted Quintero and he added muscle down the middle. He delivered although he played less than 20 minutes.
FW Carlos Bacca, N/A -- Brought on 32 minutes into the second half started in order to rest Falcao.