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Club World Cup: Maverick Quintero gets another chance on the big stage

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 17 Dec 2018

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The Colombian playmaker drew back his left foot outside the penalty area and smashed home a spectacular goal via the underside of the crossbar.

It was a moment to illuminate a South American argument that fans will never forget, one to elevate a player already known in Europe but now on the cusp of superstar status.

As the Monaco-based but Real Madrid-bound James Rodriguez slayed Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup, his replacement at Porto, Juan Fernando Quintero, sat unused on the bench.

Over the next four years, James and his compatriot, two years his junior, would take their mercurial talents in sharply contrasting directions.

But following another remarkable goal (outside the box, left foot, in off the bar – you know the kind) to settle the mother of all rivalries in the Copa Libertadores showdown with Boca Juniors at the Santiago Bernabeu, the now 25-year-old Quintero is ready to potentially take centre stage for River Plate against European champions Madrid at the Club World Cup.

Porto woe and rock-bottom at Rennes

While James set about an up-and-down spell in the Spanish capital, effectively becoming surplus to requirements under Zinedine Zidane and joining Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal, Quintero’s reality became increasingly distant from any dreams of representing European football’s aristocrats.

The increasingly physical edge to top-level football evident during the first decade of the 2000s had given way and number 10s bearing the gifts of James and Quintero could flourish as fulcrums of the best teams in the world.

However, Quintero’s fondness for another trait associated with the folk heroes of 20th century South American football – let’s generously call it the high life – has all too often caught up with him during a time he should have flourished.

‘Juanfer’ is famously a party boy: friend of reggaeton stars, foe of the weighing scales.

As his poundage went up, his performances and value decreased. Unhappy with the return on their investment, Porto sent Quintero to Rennes on a season-long loan that collapsed somewhere between farce and apathy. The last of 12 Ligue 1 appearances came in February of the 2015-16 season. He scored once.

Hometown hero reborn

It took a stint back in his home city, the home of a tough upbringing where his father became one of the “disappeared” in Colombia’s bloody civil conflict when Juanfer was just two, for a player of impish brilliance to rediscover the magic.

A loan with Independiente Medellin yielded 13 goals in 25 league appearances. There was a red card, too, but Quintero was back on an upward curve.

A third temporary spell away from Porto took him to River Plate for 2018 and the wily Jose Pekerman handed him a route out of international exile in time for the World Cup.

During a boisterous, celebratory group phase, Quintero and James were irresistible in tandem.

Despite Carlos Sanchez’s third-minute red card, Quintero brought Colombia level in their opening 2-1 loss to Japan with a mischievous free-kick underneath the wall. He laid on Radamel Falcao’s goal in the 3-0 win over Poland and hung a delicate corner in the air for Yerry Mina to power a winner past Senegal.

James missed the last-16 clash through injury and Quintero was unable to leave his mark on an ugly contest that ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat.

‘I am not fat. I am a little short and I have a big ass.’

He was now back in the consciousness of the wider footballing world. Yet, as ever in Quintero’s career of excellence, excess and exasperation, nothing is as simple as it appears.

In River’s Copa Libertadores campaign, seven of his 12 appearances came via the bench. Not that it mattered much in the final reckoning, but it still feels an unsatisfactory return for a player of Quintero’s obvious talent.

He endeared himself with a response to questions about his fitness earlier this year by replying: “I am not fat. I am a little short and I have a big ass.” He also insisted his work rate was in order, even if River boss Marcelo Gallardo felt safer serving him a diet of substitute cameos.

Quintero clipped home the game-breaking goal against Independiente in the Libertadores quarter-final, an all-Buenos Aires affair dwarfed by the scale, loathing and violent upheaval of the Superclasico final against Boca Juniors.

Perhaps fittingly for such a fractious showdown, there was a savage beauty to Quintero’s Bernabeu goal that put River in front for the first time in the tie and on the way to a 5-3 aggregate triumph.

Al Ain are up first in the Club World Cup for Gallardo’s men, with a final against the winner of Real Madrid versus Kashima Antlers. Chinese Super League clubs are reportedly making eyes at Quintero but, with his wand of a left foot, he looks ready to cast a spell over European admirers all over again.

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