Colombia pairing of Rodriguez, Quintero works at World Cup
KAZAN, Russia (AP) — They've been friends since childhood and now they are forming a surprising midfield partnership for Colombia at the World Cup.
James Rodriguez and Juan Quintero shined in the team's 3-0 win over Poland, with three assists between them. The display helped keep the South Americans in contention to advance from their group.
Their pairing hasn't always worked for Colombia, since both are left-footed and have a similar style of play.
Coach Jose Pekerman has tried and tested the combination before with little success.
But it worked perfectly Sunday as Rodriguez and Quintero repaid Pekerman's confidence with scintillating and dedicated performances. Rodriguez, the top scorer at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, had two assists and was named man of the match while Quintero set up Radamel Falcao's first-ever World Cup goal with a perfect pass.
"We're talking about two players with extraordinary talent," Pekerman said after the match. "They played very well together."
Quintero earned his selection for the World Cup at the last minute after missing out on the entire qualification campaign, thanks to excellent showings with Argentine club River Plate, where he has been on loan from Porto. He had started in Colombia's first group match against Japan in place of Rodriguez, who came on as a substitute for his friend later in the game, and Quintero scored in the 2-1 loss. To celebrate his goal, he ran toward Rodriguez, who had been hampered by a calf injury and couldn't start.
"He knows that I'll always give him my unconditional support," Quintero said.
Quintero and Rodriguez have a perfect understanding of each other. They have played together in clubs and national youth teams, and were called up by Pekerman in 2012.
Against Poland, their pace, slick passing and fine one-touch moves made Polish players' head spin. They also started off the play that led to Yerri Mina's opener in the first half.
"It's because we have been playing from a very young age. We try to make everything natural," Quintero said. "He (Rodriguez) knows the admiration I have for him. I love him very much. The most important thing is that we can achieve things for Colombia."
Pekerman might be tempted to start with the pair again in Colombia's final group game against Senegal on Thursday, when his players need a win to qualify.
"We need to play at an extraordinary level to beat a tough team," he said. "Mentally, we're in a good place, but we need to continue to improve, because we are ambitious, and we hope to continue in this World Cup."
Associated Press writer Juan Zamorano contributed to this story.