James the hero as Colombians make a home away from home

COMMENT: The Real Madrid star was cheered with every touch in his country's 2-1 win over USA in Fulham, underlining his status as national icon
By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent

It could have been downtown Bogota given the sheer volume of the Colombians whenever their team attacked.

The USA national team’s commercial arm knew what they were doing when they invited Colombia to take them on at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. What followed was a partisan atmosphere generated by an international record crowd of 24,235.

That the American supporters were dwarfed in number did little to stop Jurgen Klinsmann’s men more than playing their part in Colombia’s eventual win. But after taking an early lead, they looked set to get a lot more out of the evening than a pat on the back.

Pablo Armero has hardly had the greatest of starts to life at AC Milan, racking up only 13 minutes in the famous red and black since arriving in the summer. And though he might have thought a temporary change of scenery would do him some good, he needlessly handled in the area in the opening 10 minutes to gift the USA an easy lead from Jozy Altidore’s penalty.

This was not what the majority of the crowd had had in mind. They had come to see James Rodriguez shine.

While for many around the world it was his transfer to Real Madrid that catapulted him to superstar status, Colombians needed no such reason to adore James. His efforts at the World Cup, in which he top-scored with six goals as the Cafeteros reached the quarter-finals, had already made him a hero in his homeland.

Opener | Altidore slots home from the spot to give the US short-lived joy

Colombia could well have been level when Teo Gutierrez got in behind the US back line and squared for Carlos Bacca, but the Sevilla striker struck the outside of Brad Guzan’s near post. Moments later, they had a huge shout for a penalty of their own, Jermaine Jones raising an arm which met Bacca’s shot through a crowd. While it was an inadvertent stop, his movement towards the ball should have been enough for a spot-kick.

They got their goal on the hour in controversial circumstances.

The offside Gutierrez was allowed to run by US defenders expecting a flag, but Bacca ran through to round Guzan as the officials waved play on. The River Plate man had initially motioned towards the ball, but his decision not to touch the ball allowed Bacca to slot home legally. What could not be argued was that James’ superbly-weighted pass had been worthy of an assist either way.

From there the majority of the crowd had the scent of a winner in their noses, and it eventually came in the 87th minute. Edwin Cardona was given time to cross from the right of the penalty area and found Gutierrez, who thundered a header over Guzan and into the net.

He may have had no say in the final act, but James remained the undoubted star for the majority.

There were around 20,000 compatriots at Craven Cottage on Friday night hell-bent on reaffirming the point that James is the undoubted star of Colombian football. Every single touch from the number 10 was met with screams of expectation. Just by walking towards the stands to collect the loose ball for a throw-in, he had some nearby supporters on the verge of tears.

And when one countryman ran on the pitch to give him a hug after Gutierrez’s winner, he stood up for the intruder as he was unsurprisingly grappled and led away by stewards. As if Colombians didn’t love him enough, his compassion was also cheered to the rafters.

James remains the hero of his nation in every sense.

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