Two 22-year-olds are all set to fight it out. But which one of the two is going to be the king tonight? Will Neymar outshine Rodriguez? Or is it Rodriguez who will have the last laugh? The fate of two South American rivals -- Brazil and Columbia -- will depend on how these young but hugely gifted footballers play their games.
Neymar gestures during a training session at the President Vargas stadium on the eve of the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter-final match between Brazil and Colombia in Fortaleza on July 3, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil. Photo: Getty Images
Hailed almost from birth as the next great Brazil footballer, Neymar is more fleet-footed, more imaginative and more precise than anyone else on the pitch.
He possesses the quality that one expects in a great player: pace, balance, technique and flair, and all perfectly executed at high speed. With four goals from four matches, the lithe Brazilian poster-boy showed the world why his country’s quest for sixth World Cup revolves round him.
Neymar of Brazil is challenged by Felipe Gutierrez (L) and Charles Aranguiz of Chile during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at Estadio Mineirao on June 28, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Photo: Getty Images
Unlike Neymar, Rodriguez wasn’t certainly among the global stars before the World Cup. But his world has changed within a span of three weeks. Even the top coaches of the world are now placing him in the same bracket along with Messi and Suarez.
Colombia's Colombia's midfielder James Rodriguez (2nd L) scores his second goal against Uruguay during a Round of 16 football match at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 28, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Uruguay Coach Oscar Tabarez is ahead of everyone else in singing praises of the Colombian. He even rated the performance of Rodriguez better than Messi.
“Maradona, Messi, Suarez, James Rodriguez -- they do things because they have certain gifts that make them special,” Tabarez said. “For me, he’s the best player in the World Cup.”
No need to be a football pundit for figuring out what drove a veteran coach like Tabarez to such a comparison, which borders on exaggeration. A gem of a Rodriguez goal against Uruguay possibly shaped up Tabarez’s opinion. The breath-taking goal he scored can safely be ranked as the best of a record 140 goals scored in this World Cup so far.
Rodriguez coolly chested down a floating ball from Abel Aguilar at the top of the penalty area. Eyeing it from inches away as it dropped, he caught it with his left foot just before it hit the ground and scorched it in off the crossbar. It all happened in one fluid motion.
Already the top scorer with five goals, he certainly poses the biggest threat for Brazil. Six months older than Neymar, Rodriguez has a slightly different build. He is stockier and stronger, and harder to push off the ball. He is certainly not as fast as the Brazilian but does have the ability to produce sudden burst of speed to catch defenders off guard.
Both the players can score goals with consummate ease but celebrate those with distinctly different styles. Neymar likes to dance and do handstands after goals while Rodriguez races to the corner flag for a hip-shaking celebration dance.
We will have to wait till the Saturday daylight breaks in Bangladesh to see which celebration is performed more on the field. I will go for handstands. Brazil will prevail in a South American thriller.