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Enigmatic Quintero steps up for Colombia as James doubts persist

Moscow (AFP) – A new injury to James Rodriguez, this time to his right calf, has thrust the mercurial Juan Fernando Quintero back into the foreground ahead of Colombia’s World Cup clash against England.

For the 25-year-old Quintero, it will be another chance to direct his team’s attack after the playmaker showcased his often latent potential to pull Colombia through the group stage. 

The River Plate midfielder assumed a lead role ahead of Colombia’s opening game against Japan in Saransk, after James was a late scratch from the starting line-up.

The dismissal of Carlos Sanchez just three minutes in completely altered the complexion of the match, yet Quintero tried to lead by example — sneaking a clever free-kick under the wall to haul his team level.

The physical demands on Colombia eventually took their toll against an athletic Japanese side, and Jose Pekerman’s men ultimately succumbed to a 2-1 defeat.

The left-footed Quintero still made a name for himself though by becoming the first Colombian player to score at two World Cups.

Then 21, Quintero had struck in a 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast during the group stage of the 2014 edition, where Colombia reached the quarter-finals in the nation’s best performance to date.

– A partner for James –

With James back fit and Colombia in desperate need of a win over Poland, Pekerman sprang a surprise by retaining Quintero in the side to provide extra creativity.

The formula worked a treat as Colombia prevailed 3-0 to haul their campaign back on track, Quintero superbly teeing up Falcao for the second goal in a performance dominated by his partnership with James.

“I can’t deny the feeling of satisfaction because we thought more than once this pairing could be influential based on everything else,” Pekerman said.

Up next were a dangerous Senegal outfit, and James was this time forced off after 30 minutes with another muscle complaint. Quintero again doubled down, his corner headed in by Yerry Mina to secure a 1-0 victory. 

“This team doesn’t give up, everyone is committed and focused. We want to overtake Brazil and I think we’re on the right path,” Quintero said as Colombia advanced as winners of Group H.

On the horizon is a youthful but talented England, the only country in that part of the draw to have won a World Cup, and Quintero looks set to have another major role to play given the latest James setback. 

– A new European future? –

The diminutive playmaker, who stands just 1.68 metres (five feet six inches) tall, failed to shine on his first spell in Europe — he had stints at Pescara, Porto and Rennes between 2013 and 2016 — but he could return to the continent on a new adventure after Russia. 

In September 2016, Quintero, who was voted the best player at the Under-20 South American Championship three years earlier, left France to head home and join Independiente Medellin.

His excellent performances there prompted River to take him on loan in January, although he remains under contract with Porto.

Both his fitness and application have come under scrutiny in the past, but Quintero is trying to debunk the belief his languid style belongs in a bygone era.

Arsenal, with Unai Emery now at the helm, have been linked with him, and he could be a target for other leading clubs, in the way that Real Madrid snapped up James after he won the Golden Boot in Brazil.

But Quintero’s mind is not clouded by his future. 

“I’m at the World Cup with my team, doing everything for the country and then afterwards there will be time to think,” he said.

River want to keep hold of him, but Quintero’s days as a “Millonario” appear to be drawing to a close as he leaves his mark on the World Cup.

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