World falls for James Rodriguez

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iol spt pic James Rodriguez celebrate AFP Colombia's James Rodriguez has become a global household name during the World Cup. Photo: TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

Rio de Janeiro - Colombia's new idol James Rodriguez is living the dream of every footballer: to go from being a virtual unknown to a global household name during a World Cup.

This was something that not Diego Maradona nor Ronaldo, Neymar or Lionel Messi were able to do, given that they had established their reputations in domestic and continental competitions before shining at different World Cups.

“When you see a star being born, it fills your heart with sweetness, and this is exactly what is happening at the moment with James Rodriguez,” commented Italian paper La Gazzetta dello Sport Sunday, the day after Colombia's 2-0 defeat of Uruguay in Rio's Maracana stadium - with Rodriguez going to the top of the World Cup scorers chart with two more goals to his name.

His display in Maracana provoked the admiration of his team-mates, his coach, of celebrities such as basketball star LeBron James, singer Rihanna and actress Sofia Vergara - and indeed of the entire watching world.

Maybe without knowing it, Rihanna hit the nail on the head: “Rodriguez!!! But he's just a boy!” A dangerous boy who arrived in Brazil aged 22, and will be 23 the day before the final in Maracana.

Not all 'boy wonders' have the same luck as Pele, who helped Brazil to win the 1958 World Cup in Sweden aged just 17.

Cesar Luis Menotti didn't give a chance to a 17 year-old Diego Maradona in Argentina in 1978.

And in Spain four years later Maradona was a flop. He didn't really establish himself until Mexico '86, when he was 25.

Messi's situation has been similar. Just before his 19th birthday, Messi had to endure the 2006 World Cup from the subs' bench.

Neither was he a great success four years later, in South Africa. And Ronaldo, when aged just 17, did not play at the 1994 World Cup, and was anonymous in the 1998 final when aged 21.

It was not until 2002 when he finally stamped his mark on the World Cup, when aged 25. Brazil's Neymar - who seems to be enjoying the tournament much less than the Colombian - is the same age as Rodriguez, but with much less pressure on him.

That is the consequence of suddenly emerging from virtual anonymity. In contrast, Neymar has the massive responsibility of guiding a team which is obliged to win the World Cup.

Friday will see a duel between the two youngsters, when Brazil take on Colombia in Fortaleza.

Jose Pekerman - the coach who kept Messi on the Argentina bench in 2006 - has another chance in the World Cup eight years later.

Rodriguez' scintillating display Saturday against Uruguay led Pekerman to say: “He has everything to become a world-class player. I never had any doubt that this was going to be the World Cup of James Rodriguez.

“I have had some extraordinary players in my teams over the years. At just 22, he has no problem in doing things that most players take many years to understand.”

Oscar Tabarez, coach of Uruguay, was generous with the player who put his side out of the World Cup: “He is really a great talent, like Maradona or Messi, one of those very special players. From what we have seen so far, he is the best player of the tournament. I don't think I am exaggerating.”

Therefore, the days of Rodriguez at AS Monaco might be numbered. A Spanish television channel asked him Saturday if he would like to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid and he replied: “Spain has one of the most important leagues and I would love to play there. It would be a dream to play in Spain.”

Then he quickly refocused on the present and said: “Maybe when this finishes I will think about the future. But at the moment I am just happy to be here.”

Sapa-dpa



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