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.

Latest Posts
  1. Danny Welbeck gets off the mark for Arsenal, links up with Ozil superbly

    Sep 20, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League

    Can Welbeck and Ozil click and become Arsenal’s main offensive weapons?

  2. At the half: West Ham builds 2-0 lead, Liverpool pulls one back

    Sep 20, 2014, 1:21 PM EDT

    West Ham United v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    Raheem Stirling has narrowed Liverpool’s deficit to 2-1 at halftime in a Saturday afternoon thriller on NBC.

  3. Cisse salutes cancer-battling Jonas, Pardew defends job as Newcastle drew Hull

    Sep 20, 2014, 1:14 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    “It’s not lost on me that I get accused of being arrogant but I’m also a proud man to be manager of this football club and I’m going to fight to keep it,” Pardew said.

  4. VIDEO: Real Madrid smash eight past Deportivo; Cristiano Ronaldo bags hat trick

    Sep 20, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT

    RC Deportivo La Coruna v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Getty Images

    Watch Real’s masterclass, as the Spanish giants batter Deportivo in La Liga.

  5. Burnley 0-0 Sunderland: Third-straight scoreless draw for Clarets

    Sep 20, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT

    Burnley v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Clarets and Black Cats still searching for first win of the season after stalemate.

  6. Swansea City 0-1 Southampton: 10-man Swans can’t hold off sub Wanyama

    Sep 20, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT

    RC Celta de Vigo v Southampton - Pre Season Friendly Getty Images

    The loss drops Swansea to fifth place on nine points, while Saints jump into second place with 10 points.

  7. Newcastle United 2-2 Hull City: Cisse’s brace saves embattled Magpies

    Sep 20, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT

    Cisse AP

    Cisse revealed an undershirt message of “Always looking forward Jonas” for his teammate Gutierrez, who revealed cancer struggles earlier this week.

  8. Aston Villa 0-3 Arsenal: Red-hot Ozil, Welbeck fire Gunners to victory (video)

    Sep 20, 2014, 11:53 AM EDT

    Aston Villa v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    Three goals in three first half minutes do the business for Arsene Wenger’s men.

  9. Watch live: West Ham United vs. Liverpool (Lineups)

    Sep 20, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT

    Liverpool v West Ham United - Premier League Getty Images

    Liverpool will start Fabio Borini and Mario Balotelli up top after their last-gasp Champions League win over Ludogorets midweek.

  10. VIDEO: Arsenal score three goals in three minutes, as Gunners explode

    Sep 20, 2014, 11:21 AM EDT

    Aston Villa v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    Ozil and Welbeck rip Villa apart in stunning three-minute spell for the Gunners.

  11. Premier League half time update: Arsenal on fire, Swansea down to 10

    Sep 20, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT

    Swansea City v FC St Gallen - UEFA Europa League Getty Images

    Action at Villa Park, while a Swan sees red at the Liberty.

  12. Watch Live: Burnley vs. Sunderland (Lineups)

    Sep 20, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT

    sean_dyche Getty Images

    Both clubs go in search of their first win of the season. Watch live, right here.

  13. Watch Live: Aston Villa vs. Arsenal (Lineups)

    Sep 20, 2014, 9:48 AM EDT

    Can Arsenal kick on and cap a fine week with a win at Leicester? AP

    Can the Gunners grab their first win since the opening day of the season? Will Villa stay unbeaten? Watch live, right here.

  14. Watch live: Swansea City vs. Southampton (Lineups)

    Sep 20, 2014, 9:47 AM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-SOUTHAMPTON-SWANSEA Getty Images

    Bafetimbi Gomis has been relegated to the bench for the hosts, while Shane Long gets the start up-top with Graziano Pelle for the Saints.

  15. Queens Park Rangers 2-2 Stoke City: Kranjcar’s cracker saves QPR

    Sep 20, 2014, 9:39 AM EDT

    Queens Park Rangers v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    Kranjcar’s curler saves the day for Rangers, as Stoke are thwarted.

  16. Watch Live: Newcastle United vs. Hull City (Lineups)

    Sep 20, 2014, 9:19 AM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Tigers midfielder David Meyler, recipient of a Pardew head butt last season, will start on the bench.

  17. Jose Mourinho wants Manchester City’s title taken away, points deducted

    Sep 20, 2014, 9:04 AM EDT

    Britain Soccer Champions League AP

    Mourinho: “Are the fines fair? I don’t think so. What is fair is to remove points and titles.”

  18. Louis van Gaal: No player is a guaranteed starter at Manchester United

    Sep 20, 2014, 8:15 AM EDT

    VanGaal Getty Images

    LVG lays down the law ahead of United’s trip to Leicester on Sunday.

  19. Watch Live: Queens Park Rangers vs. Stoke City (Lineups)

    Sep 20, 2014, 7:27 AM EDT

    Queens Park Rangers v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    Can QPR bounce back from last weeks drubbing and beat the Potters? Watch live, right here.

  20. WATCH: Premier League online via NBC Sports Live Extra – Week 5

    Sep 20, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

    Live Extra

    How and where to watch every single PL game live online or via the app.

Featured video

Breaking down Man City vs. Chelsea