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.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:49 AM EDT
Fans clashed with each other and with police as objects became weapons and smoke filled the pitch.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:47 AM EDT
Marouane Fellaini returns to his former club on a much higher note than last season’s visit.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:00 AM EDT
Two big games are coming your way on Sunday. Here’s what to expect.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:44 AM EDT
It was a bad night to be a goalkeeper. A really, really bad night.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:36 AM EDT
Winning on the road in MLS is always impressive. Doing it 3,000 miles from home and with a five-man bench is downright remarkable.
Apr 25, 2015, 10:55 PM EDT
MLS Game of the Year? Probably. It had a little bit of everything, including some amazing goals you HAVE to see.
Apr 25, 2015, 9:42 PM EDT
Good luck stopping the Revs, now that they’ve got a head of steam behind them. Another Cup run looks likely.
Apr 25, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT
Crew SC’s four-headed attacking monster completely shredded the Union’s defense. The Black and Gold are very for real.
Apr 25, 2015, 7:44 PM EDT
As long as Barcelona keep winning, the La Liga title is theirs. The way they’re going at the moment, they might just win out.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
With four teams separated by two points for the final relegation place, it’s becoming an absolute dogfight. The 2 Robbies break it down.
Apr 25, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
When in a relegation dogfight, win any way you can. That’s the message from Nigel Pearson, and that’s what Leicester City have done.
Apr 25, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Play poorly and win, or play well and lose? You can’t always have it both ways, which benefitted Man City on Saturday.
Apr 25, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Sherwood’s men were certainly hard done by away to Manchester City. It’s hard not to agree with the Villa boss.
Apr 25, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
With Watford officially promoted, who’s next? (Hint: It won’t be Boro.)
Apr 25, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Recaps, reaction, videos and more from all eight PL games on Saturday.
Apr 25, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
Rodgers: “It’s an area we’ll look at in the summer.”
Apr 25, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT
Citizens survive second half Villa comeback to move up to second, cement spot in top four.
Apr 25, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT
Three of four “bottom five” clubs who played on Saturday picked up a point, including one side scooping up a massive three points to leap off the bottom of the table.
Apr 25, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT
Messi now has at least 50 goals in four seasons during his career.
Apr 25, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT
Mexico national teamer Miguel Layun posted this video on Twitter, as the club learns its been promoted and the bus goes absolutely bonkers.
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