Jun 24, 2014, 9:41 PM EST
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.
La Liga and Serie A roundup: Valencia, Napoli falter in Champions League bids; Milan derby a stalemate
Nov 23, 2014, 10:20 PM EST
Catch up on all of Sunday’s action and movement in La Liga and Serie A.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:15 PM EST
The Revs and Galaxy may both hold one-goal advantages, but they’re very different leads built in very different ways.
Nov 23, 2014, 7:45 PM EST
The Crystal Palace manager hailed his side’s “Neil Warnock performance” as they pull themselves out of the relegation zone.
Nov 23, 2014, 7:14 PM EST
The Galaxy find themselves just 90 minutes from the third MLS Cup final in four years after a narrow victory over the Sounders.
Halftime, MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders in 0-0 Western Conference Championship stalemate
Nov 23, 2014, 6:05 PM EST
Zeroes on the scoresheet, but plenty of action in the first half. Sounders very patient, but Galaxy getting close.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:32 PM EST
He’s only ever done it twice in his MLS career, but with the season — and maybe his career — on the line, Thierry Henry will play on artificial turf next week.
Nov 23, 2014, 4:50 PM EST
The Spurs manager wouldn’t be drawn into talk about the winner from Christian Eriksen or the red card to Gaston Ramirez, instead discussing how he was just delighted to get three points any way he can.
Lineups, MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy host Seattle Sounders in Western Conference Championship, leg 1
Nov 23, 2014, 4:25 PM EST
Lineups are in for the Galaxy and Sounders’ Western Conference Championship first leg matchup. Two massive omissions leave Seattle shorthanded.
Nov 23, 2014, 4:07 PM EST
The Eastern Conference Championship first leg finished Red Bulls 1-2 Revolution, putting Jay Heaps’ side in full control of the series.
Nov 23, 2014, 3:10 PM EST
Steve Bruce challenged the decision to give Gaston Ramirez a straight red card, and criticized Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen for going down too easily.
Halftime, MLS Cup Playoffs: New York Red Bulls 1-1 New England Revolution after thrilling first half
Nov 23, 2014, 2:52 PM EST
The first 45 at Red Bull Arena was wild. Take a deep breath and relive the thrilling actions, goals and all.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
New England is undefeated in 11 straight matches with Jermaine Jones in the lineup.
Nov 23, 2014, 1:29 PM EST
Brendan Rodgers was quite downtrodden following Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace, the club’s third defeat in a row.
Nov 23, 2014, 12:55 PM EST
Hull led inside 10 minutes and looked solid on both ends, but a straight red to Gaston Ramirez for a kick at Jan Vertonghen, and Christian Eriksen completes the Spurs comeback a minute before full time.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:50 AM EST
Fastest ever red card? It certainly has a shout after Australian completes an ugly tackle straight after coming on.
Nov 23, 2014, 10:48 AM EST
Mauricio Pochettino has called on Ben Davies and five others to fix things for Spurs, as both sides make a whopping six changes to their lineups from last weekend.
Nov 23, 2014, 10:26 AM EST
Yannick Bolasie was a force down both flanks as Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace pulls out of the relegation zone.
Nov 23, 2014, 10:01 AM EST
David Moyes began his tenure in Spain with a 0-0 draw, but there was more to it than that.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:19 AM EST
After missing the World Cup while rehabbing a serious ankle injury, Marco Reus is faced with yet another long road back.
Nov 23, 2014, 7:48 AM EST
With Daniel Sturridge shelved for weeks and Mario Balotelli unable to get past a groin knock, Liverpool turns to Rickie Lambert to produce goals at Selhurst Park.
- Inside Look, MLS Cup Playoffs: How Revs, Galaxy built very different one-goal leads 0
- Recap: LA Galaxy grab 1-0 lead over Seattle Sounders in Western Conference Championship 1
- Despite artificial turf, New York Red Bulls’ Thierry Henry says he’ll play next week at New England 1
- Recap: New England Revolution snatch 2-1 lead, two away goals from New York Red Bulls 6
- Video: Brendan Rodgers says Liverpool needs to “become a team” 1
- Crystal Palace 3-1 Liverpool: Bolasie carves up Liverpool defense 3