Skip to content

Neymar, Rodríguez: South America’s future shines before the knockout round

Jun 24, 2014, 9:41 PM EDT

BRASILIA, BRAZIL - JUNE 23: Neymar of Brazil celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Cameroon and Brazil at Estadio Nacional on June 23, 2014 in Brasilia, Brazil. Getty Images

Neymar has been on soccer fans’ radars for so long, it’s strange to think of him as one for the future, but if the Brazilian star’s first year at Barcelona told us anything, it’s that the 22-year-old still has room to improve. A valuable part of a team that finished second in La Liga, the former Santos star failed to meet expectations inflated by his $74 million transfer fee. Though 15 goals across all competitions was good, it still left us wondering what can be.

Two weeks in Brazil have given us another glimpse of that future: three games; two braces; and one sign a transition year between Brazil and Spain need not define the Selecao’s biggest start. With four goals, Neymar sits on top of the 2014 World Cup’s scoring chart, outpacing names like Thomas Müller, Karim Benzema, Robin van Persie, and Arjen Robben, all with three goals.

That only tells part of the Neymar story. Scoring 35 time in 52 appearances during what’s sure to be a record-setting international career, Neymar’s always been able to produce goals, but now moved into the middle of the Selecao attack, the goal-scorer-turned-focal point is at the center of everything his team does. Oscar’s playmaking helps, but through the tournament’s first three games, Neymar has more touches than any non-defender in the squad – part of the reason why, as we approach the midway point of the tournament, he’s has put himself in contention for the Golden Ball.

After Tuesday’s action, James Rodríguez is in the same boat, something even the Colombian’s most ardent supporters would have been pressed to predict when the tournament started. With team’s loss of its own focal point, striker Radamel Falcao, it was unclear how Cafeteros head coach José Pékerman would adjust. Thanks to his own 22-year-old star, the Colombians haven’t missed a beat. With three goals and two assists, Rodríguez may by the World Cup’s most productive player.

source: AP

Colombia’s James Rodriguez celebrates after scoring during the match between Japan and Colombia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

He may also be tournament’s best, period, a status only emboldened by his 45 minutes today against Japan. On what was supposed to be a day of rest for Ligue 1’s assist leader, Rodríguez came off the bench to redefine the match. Instead of Japan carrying over momentum from their late first half equalizer, James (pronounced in a Spanish style: HAHM ace) asserted control, producing a goal for Jackson Martínez within 10 minutes in his introduction. From there, the Colombian creator did his damage in transition, seemingly making every ball played out of the Colombian defense into a potentially back-breaking counter.

By match’s end, Rodríguez’s 45 minutes had produced a goal, two assists, a 4-1 win, and no memory of his team being completely outplayed before halftime. Whereas once the Colombians looked in danger of being handed their first blemish, the team rolled into the knockout round on the back of a three-goal win, leaving no hint that they’re missing their best player.

Or maybe, they’re not. While it’s too soon to say Rodríguez has eclipsed the influence of Falcao, Tuesday’s performance confirmed that day will eventually come. Every ounce of promise that took Rodríguez from Banfield to Porto and Porto to Monaco was funneled into 45 minutes of the best individual soccer we’ve seen at this tournament. For all the talk of Robben’s performances, Müller-ian opportunism, or the array of goals Benzema could have scored, nobody’s reached the heights Rodríguez did in today’s second half.

Combined, Rodríguez and Neymar have already scored seven times at this World Cup. They’ve showed why Barcelona and Monaco open their vaults to buy then. They’ve provided a glimpse of two talents who could define the next eight years of South American soccer.

And combined, they’re only slightly older than one of Rodriguez’s teammate. Faryd Mondragón became the World Cup’s oldest player today, but at 43 years old, he nearly matches the age of two of the tournament’s brightest stars.

Through three games at this year’s World Cup, their ages haven’t mattered, though for fans around the world, 22 should be a reassuring number. Even if they fall in the knockout round, Neymar and Rodríguez will be back in 2018. And 2022.

  1. lorenzo463 - Jun 24, 2014 at 10:09 PM

    I’m a little sad to see that four out of the six South American sides will be in the same quarter of the bracket- there are two or three teams in that bracket (I’m leaving out Uruguay on the assumption that Suarez is gone) that could have made it to the final four.

  2. jucam1 - Jun 24, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    Colombia had 8 subs start the 1st half of this game, they are missing Falcao, Valencia, Ramirez, Perea, and Bacca do to injury this whole Cup, they were up 1- 0 and due to a lapse Japan tied it at the end of the first half. By no means was Colombia getting “dominated” in the first half. James is the engine but you’re short changing how really good this Colombia team is, how much talent they have, and that they’re one if 2 teams to sweep their group and look amazing doing it. That second half was amazing. They are way better than England, Italy, and other supposed world powers. Can only imagine how great they would be if they had gone to the tournament healthy with Falcao and the rest of the injured players. Belgium and Colombia were my two teams predicted to make huge impacts and they have. I know this site caters to the US reader, but we like to hear about other teams that don’t always get the spot light too and they always get short coverage. Colombia and Belgium are playing gorgeous futbol right now and are much better teams than the US or England. I like this break down of Neymar and James as a start to more coverage of the young stars that will truly make an impact on world futbol.

    • Richard Farley - Jun 24, 2014 at 10:17 PM

      Sorry if it seemed like I was short-changing them, but Japan outshot Colombia 13-4 in the first half, 4-1 in shots on goal, and had 63% possession (if I recall correctly). The only save Kawashima was asked to make as from the spot (IIRC). It was a bad half and completely not indicative of how very good Colombia has been, but the teams receives (as you note) were dominated, IMO. Except of the initial minutes, was one-way traffic for most of the half, part of the reason why Pékerman spend two of his subs at halftime.

  3. gor3hound - Jun 24, 2014 at 10:23 PM

    James has been playing lights out football in this tournament, just thinking what he could had made with a healthy Falcao in this World Cup makes you sad about the timing of that injury.
    Neymar has show than he is better Than what he had showed as a barca player and that’s good for a Brazilian team than honestly hasn’t showed that much.

  4. jucam1 - Jun 24, 2014 at 10:37 PM

    Richard, thank you for your explanation and overview of what you saw. I appreciate your perspective on my point of view. I think I am looking at it from a tournament wide perspective and not just one game. Still, I think you guys are doing great job of covering most of the stories, and I read you everyday so theres that. I hope that my two dark horses continue to win and become the Cup stories I think they will be.

  5. ravenswhat - Jun 25, 2014 at 7:11 AM

    Neymar at only 22 is scary. Truly scary.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

MOTD: United's offensive struggles