Rodriguez will outshine Neymar in a battle of No. 10s
Story of two No. 10s - Rodriguez is blessed with teammates of the same wavelength but Neymar is burdened by a nation's hopes
BRAZIL v COLOMBIA
(Saturday, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
His father named him after 007. James Rodriguez now has a licence to kill off Brazil.
Age and talent unite Rodriguez and Neymar. They are divided only by expectation.
Colombians view a place in the last four as a bonus; Brazilians consider it their birthright.
Rodriguez has given a proud, under-achieving country hope. But a country's hopes rest on Neymar's slender shoulders.
The subtle difference between the two gives Rodriguez the edge.
The Colombian is buoyed by his own brilliance, all other concerns are secondary. But Neymar is always one step from despair; the ball and chain of impending disappointment dragging along behind him.
A nation's fears follow Neymar. Brazilians hang on his every word as his commercials play endlessly here. They cling to his bootlaces in every match. They dare not let go.
They cannot break the umbilical cord between their aspirations and Neymar's performances; the two are indelibly linked, one cannot survive without the other.
A born superstar, Neymar still preens through the pressure but the demands of his time and talent must be draining, suffocating. Even he needs room to breathe.
The 22-year-old didn't get it against the constricting Chileans in the Round of 16. For the first time in the tournament, he laboured. The wizardry gave way to a workmanlike display as he overcompensated for others.
The front-man act can be self-defeating when so many tone-deaf band members are out of tune.
While Neymar huffed and puffed, Rodriguez made the sweetest music against Uruguay.
He met their cynical brutality with sublime beauty, scoring one of the goals of the tournament and wrapping up victory with a neatly constructed team goal that defined Colombia's collective enterprise.
Refusing to stagnate, the Monaco man is a rolling stone at this World Cup.
He's gathering momentum. He's not straitjacketed by a society's demands. He is free to be, liberating his teammates along the way.
Uruguayan marksmen hacked away at the 22-year-old, relying on the most rudimentary tactics to take down his creative talent, but Rodriguez drifted away.
He had a ghostly presence, seemingly floating above the Maracana's pristine pitch to haunt his pursuing, perspiring shadows.
His ingenuity was infectious. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado gatecrashed his party on the other flank; the nominal wingers joining hands with Jackson Martinez and leading the grunting, groaning Uruguayans on a merry dance.
Neymar isn't blessed with colleagues on quite the same wavelength. Occasionally, they're not even in the same postcode.
If Neymar is the samba soul man of the Selecao, then Hulk and Fred are best left shaking the maracas in the background. The striker often has to keep running to stand still.
He was treading water against Chile, thrashing around furiously to stay afloat and desperately hoping that someone would throw him a lifebuoy. Not for the first time, he saved himself, scoring the decisive penalty in the shootout against Chile. But he must come up for air.
Together with Lionel Messi, Neymar on four goals is one step from the World Cup summit behind Rodriguez (five goals), but he's the one struggling with altitude sickness. He made the climb alone. He's exhausted.
But Rodriguez has reinforcements. Jose Pekerman's unlikely band of brothers developed a deeply entrenched camaraderie as the World Cup progressed.
They circled the wagons around Radamel Falcao's injury. Their popular striker offered a rallying cry in absentia. Adversity inspired them. The Colombians had nothing to lose.
Their winger grabbed the opportunity with both boots. In four games, he's turned from underling to untouchable. Falcao is forgotten. Rodriguez rules.
Pekerman wisely handed him the leadership role he coveted. He is handling Colombian creative responsibilities with the same remarkable maturity he displayed at Monaco last season.
Neymar revels in a similar role, but needlessly adds to his own job description. He cannot help himself. He's ruled by his irreverence. He plays both artistic director for the Selecao and musical conductor for 200 million people swinging to his samba beat. And the Brazilians adore him for it.
His intoxicating antics and his spirited commitment to his country's cause have been tournament highlights. With every goal, back-flick, celebration and uplifting roar, the spiky peroxide blonde has sparkled at this tournament. But his teammates are shrinking in the spotlight.
Against Chile, Neymar's multi-tasking consumed him. Carrying an unforgiving country and the sloppy Selecao almost overwhelmed him. Even geniuses can't bear that much weight.
The Brazilians haven't peaked too soon in the tournament. This is as good as it gets.
Neymar got away with it once against Chile. He survived.
But, when he faces the boy named after James Bond, he may discover that you don't always live twice.
RODRIGUEZ’S BEST GOAL
June 29, Round of 16,
COLOMBIA 2 URUGUAY 0
Latching on to Abel Aguilar’s header, James Rodriguez controls the ball with his chest, and lets fly a volley with his left boot from outside the box. Fernando Muslera gets a touch but can’t stop the ball from going in off the bar.
JAMES RODRIGUEZ’S TOURNAMENT STATS
- MATCHES PLAYED: 4
- MINUTES PLAYED: 309
- GOALS SCORED: 5
- CROSSES COMPLETED: 47.1 %
- ASSISTS: 2
- RECOVERED BALLS: 7
- PASSES COMPLETED: 71 %
NEYMAR’S BEST GOAL
June 24, Group Stage,
CAMEROON 1 BRAZIL 4
Neymar gets the ball on the left side and charges forward. With Allan Nyom caught out of position, the Brazilian exploits the space, drops a shoulder, slips past Nicolas N'Koulou and drives home from the edge of the box, wrong-footing Charles Itandje.
NEYMAR’S TOURNAMENT STATS
- MATCHES PLAYED: 4
- MINUTES PLAYED: 369
- GOALS SCORED: 4
- SOLO RUNS INTO AREA: 17
- ASSISTS: 0
- DELIVERIES INTO AREA: 11
- ATTEMPTS ON TARGET: 86.7 %
He is Colombia’s ‘crack’. We will have to pay special attention to him, so as not to be surprised.
— Brazil’s Ramires, on Rodriguez
I have great praise for what he’s doing. I never had any doubts this would be his World Cup.
— Colombia coach Jose Pekerman, on Rodriguez