Brazil vs Colombia World Cup 2014 preview: Who will be king - James Rodriguez or Neymar?
The Brazilian has carried the host nation, Colombia’s top scorer has been the best player so far – but only one will be left standing after Friday
Wednesday 02 July 2014
Two of the stars of the tournament come face to face in the quarter-final in Fortaleza. Here, we compare them...
World Cup so far...
The Brazilian has had to bear unimaginable pressure – carrying a dysfunctional team through a home World Cup they are expected to win – and has done so with remarkable calm. In Brazil’s first game against Croatia, he dragged them through, with a long-range equaliser and the penalty to go ahead. He scored the first two against Cameroon and then, facing Chile in the last 16, he took the crucial fifth penalty, stuttering and feinting and sending Claudio Bravo the wrong way.
Every time it seems as if Neymar is about to slip or buckle, he produces something else to keep the national dream alive.
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James Rodriguez, though, has been the player of the tournament. He is not only the top scorer, with five goals, but has played well in every match, and seemingly better each time. James excelled against Greece, making one and scoring another, he headed the first against Ivory Coast and then came on at half-time against Japan, completing the 4-1 win with a delightful shimmy and chip.
All of which was just throat-clearing for his last-16 performance against Uruguay, when he scored the goal of the tournament so far – a glance, chest down, spin and volley all in one movement – before tapping in the second.
Neymar pictured after Brazil's victory over Chile
Hailed almost from birth as the next great product of Santos, Neymar has always been a very obvious talent. Like all of the great Brazilian players, he has footwork faster, more imaginative and more precise than anyone else on the pitch. Not naturally strong, but lithe and quick, he can dance past players with the ball glued to his feet.
When still at Santos, Neymar scored a goal against Flamengo – 3.2 million views on YouTube and counting – which seemed to display every skill you could want in a footballer: pace, balance, technique and flair, and all perfectly executed at high speed.
Just as precocious as Neymar, and six months older, James was already famous at 12 after winning a televised tournament in Colombia for his first club, Envigado. Like Neymar, James is blessed with preternatural technical ability and a first touch which takes opponents out of the game.
James has a slightly different build from Neymar, stockier and stronger, and harder to push off the ball. He is not quite as fast as the Brazilian but does have a burst to take him away from opponents. It is the ability to see the pitch as if watching from above, though, which sets James apart, and allows him to direct games for his team.
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals
Able to play anywhere across the front line, Neymar is a puckish free spirit and the only player to deliver anything exciting in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s slightly turgid Brazil side. He has been shifted around, popping up on the left, right or through the middle, while those around him have looked limited and predictable.
This has suited his game well, allowing him to seek out the spaces where he can do the most damage. It also fits well with his old role at Santos, where he had the freedom of the park. It is only at Barcelona, where he has to fit into a more rigid system, that Neymar has struggled.
James Rodriguez is a brilliantly imaginative player but has a slightly more conventional take on the No 10 role. Manager Jose Pekerman has used him as the creative heart of a 4-2-3-1 system, behind the frontman, allowing the team to make up for the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao. It is a similar role to the one he has at Monaco, at the tip of a diamond midfield.
Earlier in his career, at Banfield and Porto, James played out on the left wing. He did not always enjoy the defensive side of that role, and is more influential through the middle.
Neymar and Scolari after Brazil beat Chile on penalties
Before last season at Barcelona, Neymar had won almost every major competition he played in. He opted to stay loyal to Santos for longer than he needed to, leaving for Spain at the age of 21. By then he had won three state championships, one Brazilian cup and the Copa Libertadores. With Brazil – for whom he has 53 caps and 35 goals already – he won the 2013 Confederations Cup, dazzling on the biggest stage of his career.
Neymar’s first year at Barcelona was, understandably, a learning curve. The team won nothing and he was not a regular starter, sitting on bench for the title decider against Atletico Madrid.
Unlike Neymar, James came to Europe early, leaving Banfield for Porto when he was still 18. He had won an Argentinian title there – Banfield’s only one – and went on to take three consecutive Portuguese championships with his new club and the 2011 Europa League. From there he went to Monaco, experiencing a new league but winning nothing.
James had to do some adjusting after both those moves but plays now with the nous and experience of someone well trained in elite-level European football. He has 26 international caps, less than half of Neymar’s haul, but does seem to have benefited from a longer spell in Europe.
Neymar is already on the brink of a global stardom which only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can match. He is three wins away from winning a World Cup for the host nation almost single-handedly which, on the scale of meaningful football achievements, would be near the very top.
Although he plays for Barcelona, the world’s most famous club, he feels – unlike Messi – to be his nation’s property more than Barça’s. He will have work to do to settle into Luis Enrique’s team next season, and to win the Champions League, but that all feels less important than this.
For all his achievements in the game, James is far less recognisable than Neymar – he has 2.7 million Twitter followers, to the Brazilian’s 12 million. If he does not win the World Cup in the next 10 days, he may never do so. But he feels like the player likely to make the bigger impact on the top level of European club football. He would probably be a better fit at Barcelona than Neymar, as a long-term Andres Iniesta replacement, although he has expressed a preference for Real Madrid. Whatever happens tomorrow night, there will be far more trophies left for him to win.
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