When Colombia and Brazil clash in the quarterfinals of the World Cup Friday, it won’t just be a meeting between two South American hopefuls.
The monumental matchup will decide who moves on to the semifinal, and maybe just who has been the best player so far between Brazil superstar Neymar and Colombia talisman James Rodriguez.
Much is on the line for both players and their respective countries, but Neymar seeks to pad Brazil’s incomparable success in the World Cup, while Rodriguez could become a trailblazer for Colombian soccer for decades to come.
A spot in the semifinals is on the line, a place Brazilians have come to expect from a team that’s won five World Cups before. Rodriguez already helped Los Cafeteros reach new heights with his incredible display in the Round of 16 and now they are in the quarterfinals for the first time in history.
Showmen with team-first mentalities, the two players share several qualities and characteristics. Both are 22 years of age and haven’t even reached their primes. Both play for powerful European club teams, and both were expected to develop and excel during this World Cup.
And that’s really where the comparisons end. Neymar has Brazil three victories away from its sixth World Cup title, but this is were he and Selecao were supposed to be as the host nation and arguably the most complete team up and down the pitch.
A solid showing at the World Cup was supposed to boost Rodriguez’s overall rating in the world and that of Colombia, but the squad's present altitude is far higher than expected.
Rodriguez may have also needed a boost of confidence after netting only nine goals in 34 appearances in his first term with Ligue 1’s Monaco after starring for Serie A’s Porto the four previous seasons.
Thus far, Rodriguez has acted as Colombia’s and the World Cup’s top scorer while delegating to his teammates, as well. He’s totaled five goals in four matches, including goals against Greece and Ivory Coast squads that are known for strong defenses, and Rodriguez has assisted two more goals.
Rodriguez’s stunning volley goal against Uruguay may go down as the goal of the tournament, and put him well ahead of Neymar and Argentina’s Lionel Messi when it comes time to vote for the Golden Ball.
Representing Spanish giants Barcelona, for which he also totaled nine goals in his first season, Neymar has posted some big performances for Brazil. He scored two goals in the opening match with Croatia, and another two in the final group stage match against a depleted Cameroon squad.
However, Neymar was blanked by Mexico and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, and he failed to put Brazil on the board in the Round of 16 thriller against Chile, which was ultimately decided by a shootout. Neymar has certainly impressed with his four goals, but he could be called inconsistent at the moment. Though how we’ve come to view Neymar may have more to do with his overall style of play.
Watching Neymar split defenders and glide along the sidelines for long runs can be a breathless experience, more so because he makes it looks so effortless.
Rodriguez too can impress with this technical skills, but there is something more deliberate in his game than Neymar’s.
One thing is certain. When Neymar and Rodriguez lineup at the Castelao in Fortaleza, supporters from both sides will recognize the young greatness playing before them.