Heading into this summer’s FIFA World Cup, if you had told any given fan that a South American player would dominate the early rounds of the tournament, most people would have assumed you were talking about Brazil’s Neymar or Argentina’s Lionel Messi.
Even Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, pre-bite number three, or Chile’s Arturo Vidal would have been prime candidates to be the standout star of the World Cup.
But, two matches into the round of 16, and it is Colombia’s James Rodriguez that is the talk of the town.
The 22-year-old midfielder (he turns 23 before the end of the tournament) has scored five goals to go along with four assists in just four matches played so far, more than any other player. On top of that his play as an attacking midfielder has spearheaded a dark-horse style performance from the Colombians, who were once thought dead in the water after star striker Radamel Falcao was ruled out of the competition.
In Colombia’s matchup against Uruguay in the round of 16 Rodriguez tallied twice, including what many are calling the goal of the tournament, a 25-yard volley off the chest in the 28th minute.
The two goals were enough to secure the win against Uruguay and a spot in the quarterfinals, the farthest Colombia has ever made it in the competition.
Even Uruguay’s manager Oscar Tabarez couldn’t deny the skill Rodriguez has shown in Brazil, naming him the best of the tournament following his side’s defeat.
“I believe from what I’ve seen he’s the best player in the World Cup,” Tabarez said after the match according to the Guardian. “I’m not exaggerating.
“We tried to limit him a lot today but he kept coming and made his presence felt. Hopefully he will continue to move on because he’s very young and football needs players with these characteristics.”
Rodriguez spent three seasons in Portugal with Porto before making a 45 million euro transfer to Ligue 1 side AS Monaco for the 2013-14 season, where he played alongside countrymen Falcao.
He scored nine times in 34 appearances for the club and Monaco will likely look to hold onto the young superstar. But with names like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid likely to come knocking following the performance in the World Cup, even Monaco’s money might not be enough to convince Rodriguez to stay.
Apparently after the match Rodriguez was open to talking about his club future, even going as far as to say he prefer Real Madrid to Barcelona per Guillem Balague.
But even with the transfer talks in full swing, Rodriguez has another challenge in front of him. Despite already achieving more than any other Colombian side has in history, the squad has to prepare for the quarterfinals against hosts Brazil.
Even though the Brazilians haven’t been as dominant as promised, it will still likely be the toughest match so far for Colombia, who won all three of its matches in a relatively weaker group.
The quarterfinal match is set for Friday at 4 p.m. in Fortaleza.