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.
Aug 27, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT
Eagles swoop to hand former boss his second stint in charge at Selhurst Park.
Aug 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Milan want Torres on season-long loan deal. Will the Spaniard move on?
Aug 27, 2014, 7:18 AM EDT
Experienced lower league manager set for second stint in charge of Palace.
Aug 27, 2014, 1:02 AM EDT
Red Bulls win their full tournament debut, while Club Améric takes a valuable point on the road.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT
The rankings have had a big four — LA, RSL, Seattle, and Sporting. That group makes way for two new teams at the top of the PRs.
Aug 26, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Three-time Champions League winner adds depth to Roberto Martínez’s attack.
Aug 26, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
United boss asks fans to withhold judgment on his team’s disappointing start.
Aug 26, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT
Red Devils hit a new low, with three other Premier League clubs bowing out in the competition’s second round.
Aug 26, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT
BATE Borisov and APOEL Nicosía are also into the group stage, with the five final spots to be decided tomorrow.
Aug 26, 2014, 4:27 PM EDT
U.S. Soccer is doing right by its biggest icon. Donovan will be called up for the Oct. 10 game in Connecticut.
Aug 26, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT
For the second time in seven weeks, Thierry Henry takes home our weekly honor.
Aug 26, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Why the Jones to New England move would’ve been a whole lot better with a little more transparency. Or a lot more transparency, if you like.
Aug 26, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
New England got a whole lot better on Tuesday, and the Revs new Designated Player will immediately cause opposition problems in MLS.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT
Angel Di Maria has cost Manchester United a British transfer record of more than $98 million from Real Madrid.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
There’s still time to join up for a year of Fantasy Premier League fun via Yahoo’s free game, but don’t wait too much longer: the points are getting racked up!
Aug 26, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
Both Kostas Manolas and Mehdi Benatia have been pegged for the Premier League all summer, but the former will head to Roma to take the Bayern-bound latter’s spot.
Aug 26, 2014, 11:27 AM EDT
Tuesday and Wednesday bring 10 second legs for 20 clubs hopeful of the group stage windfall and another step toward glory.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Real Madrid goes to extremes, with only a touch of pink dotting their UEFA Champions League gear.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:21 AM EDT
The Men in Blazers are back for the second week of the Premier League, roaring through the league with breakneck speed and, dare-we-say, banter (not the Moody/Mackay type).
Aug 26, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT
Injuries to Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley further complicate things for Roy Hodgson with a looming Euro qualifier against Switzerland next month
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