Jun 24, 2014, 9:41 PM EDT
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.
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.
May 24, 2015, 12:29 AM EDT
In case you’d forgotten since last Saturday night, none of us know anything about MLS.
May 24, 2015, 12:10 AM EDT
To grind out a point in Sporting KC’s current predicament is impressive, but the Sounders were very, very poor.
May 23, 2015, 10:06 PM EDT
Last-place beats 1st-place — in other words, just another typical night in MLS!
May 23, 2015, 9:40 PM EDT
Two New England red cards changed the course of the game, which allowed the D.C. to claw back and steal a point (barely).
May 23, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
At what point is it no longer “early, still plenty of time” for the Timbers? We’re almost there.
May 23, 2015, 6:09 PM EDT
The final day of the La Liga season is in the books. Who finished where, and who was relegated?
May 23, 2015, 4:19 PM EDT
After 17 year at Barcelona, Xavi will leave the club this summer. On Saturday, he said his final farewell to the Camp Nou.
May 23, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
All 10 matches will be on the NBC family of networks, so be sure to click and find out where your club is featuring come 10 a.m. Sunday.
May 23, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
“We know we need to win it and we know we’re more than capable of doing that,” Meyler said.
May 23, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT
Carver’s bunch has played lackluster football while being waxed by clubs from the top and bottom of the table.
May 23, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Would the Blues still be champions with Lewandowski over Costa? Or would they have bought both and run rampant over Europe?
May 23, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor predicts the scores for Week 38.
May 23, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
The Real Madrid president reportedly met with Ancelotti’s agent to tell him they are likely going to part ways.
May 23, 2015, 11:32 AM EDT
Stuttgart won big to earn safety and send Hamburg to another nerve-wracking playoff.
May 23, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT
The final home match for one of Dortmund’s most successful managers is looking to be a special one at Westfalenstadion.
May 23, 2015, 9:34 AM EDT
The future of Robin van Persie at Old Trafford is very much in doubt as a former Premier League manager has given the Dutchman a very tough decision.
May 23, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT
We all knew it already, but Sami Khedira will leave Real Madrid after five seasons. Where will he land?
May 23, 2015, 8:18 AM EDT
How can Hull City or Newcastle avoid relegation? Who will qualify for the Europa League? Find out all the scenarios for the final day here.
May 23, 2015, 12:37 AM EDT
Final: LA Galaxy 1-0 Houston Dynamo
May 22, 2015, 10:31 PM EDT
Final: Columbus Crew 2-2 Chicago Fire
- MLS roundup: Last-place beats 1st-place; Toronto FC top Timbers; Revs, D.C. split points 0
- Premier League Sunday preview: One last time, with feeling (and drama… and dread) 0
- Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Tension galore as finale arrives 0
- Premier League scenarios: Europa League and relegation requirements 0
- Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Manchester United 1
- TV SCHEDULE: Premier League finale – 10 games, 10 channels on Championship Sunday 0