Skip to content

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

Jun 24, 2014, 9:41 PM EST

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Thierry Henry on Chelsea: “They live to defend”

    Mar 1, 2015, 10:20 PM EST

    Soccer - Capital One Cup - Final - Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Wembley Stadium AP

    One of the greatest strikers of all-time says it all starts on defense, something Chelsea proved today in their Capital One triumph.

  2. VIDEO: Premier League Goals of the Week — Round 27

    Mar 1, 2015, 9:09 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    It’s a battle between Liverpool super-strikes for the best goal of the week in the Premier League.

  3. La Liga & Serie A roundup: Draws for Real, Atletico; Salah shines for Fiorentina

    Mar 1, 2015, 8:15 PM EST

    Cristiano Ronaldo AP

    Catch up on all of Sunday’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.

  4. VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week — Round 27

    Mar 1, 2015, 7:17 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Two goals silenced the critics and got this Manchester man named Premier League Player of the Week.

  5. Sunderland to appeal Wes Brown red card as officiating blunders continue

    Mar 1, 2015, 6:33 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Wes Brown was sent off in the Black Cats’ loss to Manchester United, despite the fact that John O’Shea seemingly committed the foul.

  6. WATCH: Wenger hails Arsenal’s “mentally determined performance”

    Mar 1, 2015, 5:46 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Coming off of an ugly midweek loss to Monaco, Arsenal responded perfectly with a 2-0 win over Everton.

  7. Stephen Ireland sidelined after vicious challenge from Maynor Figueroa

    Mar 1, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    The Stoke City midfielder needed 12-15 stitches in his calf after taking a challenge that manager Mark Hughes said could have ended his career.

  8. Louis van Gaal says Angel di Maria is low on confidence

    Mar 1, 2015, 4:10 PM EST

    Soccer 2015: Manchester United vs. Burnley FEB 11 AP

    The Argentinian winger was subbed out at halftime of Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Sunderland.

  9. Jose Mourinho praises deputizing Kurt Zouma in League Cup win

    Mar 1, 2015, 3:20 PM EST

    Zouma AP

    Playing in front of the back four due to Nemanja Matic’s absence, the 20-year-old French defender stood out to his boss.

  10. Bas Dost, with two more goals today, is eating the Bundesliga alive

    Mar 1, 2015, 2:33 PM EST

    Dost Getty Images

    He score two more goals, continuing the ridiculous stretch for Europe’s most in-form striker.

  11. VIDEO: Fabian Johnson scores as Gladbach bounces back to win

    Mar 1, 2015, 1:52 PM EST

    Johnson AP

    The USMNT regular scored his first club goal in over two years as Borussia Monchengladbach bounced back from a midweek Europa League disappointment.

  12. VIDEO: Rodgers says Liverpool still very much in play for Top 4

    Mar 1, 2015, 1:12 PM EST

    Rodgers Getty Images

    The Liverpool manager was full of praise for his team after their high-energy performance against the defending champions.

  13. Chelsea 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur: Mourinho’s boys win League Cup trophy

    Mar 1, 2015, 12:54 PM EST

    Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Capital One Cup Final Getty Images

    Mourinho wins first trophy of his second spell in charge of Chelsea.

  14. FOLLOW LIVE – Chelsea lead Tottenham at the break in League Cup final

    Mar 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EST

    FBL-ENG-LCUP-CHELSEA-TOTTENHAM FBL-ENG-LCUP-CHELSEA-TOTTENHAM

    Chelsea have the upper hand, but can they see off Spurs at Wembley? Follow play-by-play, here.

  15. VIDEO: Pellegrini bemoans giveaways, “beautiful goals” in Liverpool loss

    Mar 1, 2015, 11:48 AM EST

    Pellegrini Getty Images

    The Manchester City boss gave props to Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho, but threw his own players under the bus for not being able to hold onto the ball.

  16. Watch Live: Documentary showcasing Arsenal’s “Invincibles”

    Mar 1, 2015, 11:15 AM EST

    Arsenal

    From 12 p.m. ET on Sunday, watch the “Invincibles” documentary live online.

  17. Arsenal 2-0 Everton: Giroud, Rosicky down toothless Toffees

    Mar 1, 2015, 11:00 AM EST

    Giroud Getty Images

    Olivier Giroud atoned for his misses midweek with the game’s only goal as Everton had little to offer.

  18. Three things we learned from Liverpool’s win vs. Manchester City

    Mar 1, 2015, 9:15 AM EST

    Liverpool v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

    The Reds put in a stunning display, as City stumble yet again.

  19. VIDEO: Coutinho curler gives Manchester City nightmares again

    Mar 1, 2015, 9:01 AM EST

    Coutinho Getty Images

    Copycat! A repeat of Jordan Henderson’s earlier strike saw the Brazilian down Manchester City late again, reminiscent of last year’s match.

  20. Liverpool 2-1 Manchester City: Pair of Reds stunners stupefy City

    Mar 1, 2015, 8:51 AM EST

    Liverpool Getty Images

    Jordan Henderson opened things up with a fabulous strike, and Philippe Coutinho copied the script with the late winner.