Juan Quintero of Colombia (left) is substituted by James Rodriguez during the match against Japan in Saransk, Russia. Photo: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA

CAPE TOWN – Because of the manner in which modern football has evolved, with its addiction to pace and power, the sport has been swamped by the new breed of athlete: the brawny, strapping stereotype capable of running all day, rigidly carrying out the game plan to the absolute letter, and imposing strength and aggression on an opponent; for such footballers, there is no need for improvisation and talent - and by that I mean real, true ability.

It’s not all that important because their graft and perseverance are crucial to the team as a whole. But then, of course, there are the exceptions, that rare breed of footballer who stands head and shoulders above through the sheer gift of natural ability.

On Sunday night, I saw one such instinctive genius - Colombia’s Juan Quintero - and, I have to say, I haven’t been this impressed by a footballer in a long, long time.

Quintero ripped Poland apart, not with strength, or pace, or power, but through his awareness of space, the penetration of his passing, his quick feet and even quicker football brain. 

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The Colombian’s touch is sheer poetry in motion; he is quick to see an opening and, when he does, he is able to spray reverse passes, pockets passes, little dinks and flicks, and even rapier-like long passes to put teammates in the clear.

What’s more, Quintero’s almost telepathic connection with teammates James Rodríguez and Juan Cuadrado creates a supreme, super-dangerous attacking triumvirate for Colombia (as Poland found out to their detriment). At times like these, when watching a footballer like Quintero in action, it invariably prompts a search through the memory banks. 

And the elegant Colombian left-footer’s style of play, the intellectual, analytical approach, the fact that he doesn’t have to bomb up and down the field to be effective, and his incisive, intuitive passing, reminded me of the period when the late Isaac “Shakes” Kungwane was in his pomp for Kaizer Chiefs, brandishing a deadly left foot with all the dazzle, dare and deception of a wizard’s wand.

Like Quintero did, so conspicuously, for Colombia in that impressive win over Poland.

Quintero's awareness of space, the penetration of his passing, his quick feet and even quicker football brain impressed soccer writer Rodney Reiners. Photo: Diego Azubel/EPA

* Panama have been so poor at Russia 2018, conceding nine goals in two games, that the question has to be asked: how wise is Fifa’s move to expand the 2026 World Cup to 48 teams?

The tournament in eight years’ time will be jointly hosted by Canada, Mexico and United States; with 16 additional countries participating, how many mismatches, like England’s 6-1 thrashing of Panama, will we see?

England barely raised a sweat, while Panama, to be brutally honest, were all over the place: they were defensively naïve and also lacked the temperament and composure required at this level.

Fifa’s thinking is understandable - football is a global game and the world governing body, no doubt, wants to expose even more nations to this fantastic spectacle. But it’s painful to watch a football team so completely out of its depth, like Panama. 

In the second half, England took their foot off the pedal. Imagine they hadn’t, we could well have had a rugby score. So, with 48 teams, what are we to see in 2026? More of the same? Probably.

Cape Times

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