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As the World Cup draws to a close and teams, players, coaches, pundits & fans alike reflect on what was and what could have been, we at Outside of the Boot under our Talent Radar feature recognise the best young players at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The eligibility criteria for this list are all those players who were 21 and below at the start of the 2013/14 season (taken as June 1st 2013).
What was expected of him? Switzerland came into the World Cup with a whole host of youngsters in their squad all of whom were at the top of their game with considerable first team experience in the past season or two. Ricardo Rodriguez, among them, was the standout performer and the one expected to be the first name on the team-sheet with almost no competition for his left-back spot. After a season where he was recognised for his performances, attention was on towards Ricardo, a lot of pressure with it.
How did he perform? Switzerland counted their blessings for getting a rather easy group to navigate with an under pressure French team the only real opposition. The opening game against Ecuador was predicted to be a walk in the park for the Swiss side; it was anything but. The physicality of Ecuador compiled with the rather ineffective approach of Switzerland made the game more open than predicted with Ecuador taking the lead and looking much the better side.
Second half and up-stepped Ricardo Rodriguez. A half-time substitution saw Admir Mehmedi introduced and three minutes later he got at the end of a Rodriguez corner to equalise. But in what was proving to be the most dull fixture up till that point in the World Cup, Ecuador were looking like the more likely side and even almost got their stoppage time winner. Desperate defending from Switzerland got the ball out and a counter erupted. The move was finished off by another substitute in Haris Seferovic who got at the end of another perfect low cross from the left by Ricardo Rodriguez. A poor performance from Switzerland, won by Rodriguez.
The French were the opposition in the next game, a chance for Switzerland to put the critics behind them and justify their high FIFA ranking; a chance and justification they missed out on. The French completely marauded the Swiss attack, scoring four in the space of 23 first half minutes. Two late consolations kept the score to a respectable three goal difference, but it was a largely unimpressive performance. Ricardo Rodriguez though again was one of the better performers. Playing against the threatening duo of Valbuena and Debuchy, who were provided cover by Sissoko, Rodriguez was kept busy throughout and was forced to showcase his defensive side. He didn’t keep them quiet by any means, but his six tackles certainly show a decent image of his performance in the defensive phase. He created a couple of chances as well in attack, but the Swiss were well out-done by a superior French side. Decent from Rodriguez, defensively adept but not able to influence enough in attack.
The last game of the group stage saw the Swiss take on Honduras, with a win needed to confirm progress. The match will rightly be remembered for the combination play between Xherdan Shaqiri & Josip Drmic, but Ricardo Rodriguez was again playing a key role in defence to ensure a first-clean sheet of the tournament. Like the previous fixture, attacking influence was scarce but he was solid in the back line. His reading of the game to make interceptions were again highlighted as Honduras struggled for any creativity down the right. The game showed his ability to play smartly as part of a back line, emphasising his sound defensive work.
In what would turn out to be Ricardo Rodriguez’ last game at the World Cup with Switzerland knocked out in extra-time by Argentina, the Wolfsburg man produced his best performance and one that we’ve regularly seen from him in the Bundesliga. Faced directly against an attack comprising of Messi, Lavezzi & Zabaleta (on his side), Ricardo Rodriguez knew he had the crucial role of ensuring Argentina’s attack doesn’t realise it’s true potential at the Round of 16 game. As expected, there was not much from him in attack again; more than the previous game though, Rodriguez displayed his ability to press opponents, forcing them into errors. It was vital as to how he set-up defensively, because Switzerlands’ system required to maintain a regular shape to thwart Argentine attacks. Six tackles and four interceptions were the stats according to WhoScored, but the method in which he contained his side of the pitch was remarkable. His ability to maintain that shape, and organise the rest of his defenders almost make him as defensively solid as a central defender. The game highlighted Argentina’s ineffective attack, questions of which were raised for the rest of the tournament; credit there must be given to the Swiss left-back,
The first game against Ecuador showed what Ricardo Rodriguez is capable of in attack, but the last game against Argentina crucially showed how he sets up defensively, using his intelligence and strength to contain any attack from the opposition. Often full-backs, even the established ones, find it hard to strike that balance but Ricardo Rodriguez is well versed in his overall game.
More from Talent Radar: Ricardo Rodriguez was named Defender of the Season in our inaugural Talent Radar Young Player Awards while also making the Team of the Season. He was at #4 in our Talent Radar list of young player to watch at the World Cup and now has retained his position there. He was also named in our Talent Radar Bundesliga Youngsters’ Team of the Season. He was a regular in our Talent Radar Teams of the Week too, such as for his performance against Hamburg. The left-back also made it into our World Cup Awards, as he was named in the Best XI comprising of only Talent Radar youngsters.
What does the future hold for him in the national team? It’s no doubt that Switzerland’s future at the international stage is certainly bright with some young players constantly coming through. Ricardo Rodriguez is arguably one of the best young players in the World and certainly one of the best young left-backs. The left-back position of the Swiss side is his for the foreseeable future.