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? With the player who would have been the first choice tip of the Colombian attack, Falcao, ruled out of the tournament, many people had lesser expectations of the South Americans. But a large fraction of whatever expectations remained did fall on to the feet of Monaco’s James Rodriguez. The midfielder was already well known after his good spells at Porto and a debut season at Monaco and it was the expectation of many who followed the Colombian national team that James would produce results at the World Cup.
How did he perform? Colombia’s first fixture of the World Cup saw them face Greece. James was positioned right behind striker Gutierrez with Cuadrado on his right and Ibarbo to his left. What we witnessed was a highly creative Colombian side that looked immensely threatening in the final third. With James dictating play with his incisive passing, Colombia was able to break the Greek defence with ease time and again. His industrious performance saw him drop deep as well as have dynamic movements in the attacking third making him hard to keep track of. James played a role in all three of Colombia’s goals, the first involved an over the top ball to winger, Cuadrado followed by a clever dummy that led to Armero clinching the first goal, the corner for Teo’s goal as well as finishing off the match with a 16 yard shot that ended up in the back of the net. The performance saw James earn the Man of the Match award.
Colombia’s second group stage match was against the Ivory Coast. James was given the same role and surrounded by the same offensive players as the previous match. Once again, James was decisive in controlling the way Colombia’s play proceeded. In what was a pulsating game, James’ ability to deal with physical opponents as well as his ability to change the team from a defensive mode to an offensive mode within a matter of few passes was evident. James broke the deadlock, doubling his tally for the tournament and earning him his second Man of the Match award at the World Cup.
The final game of the group stages saw Japan face the South Americans. With progress to the Round of 16 already assured, James started this game from the bench. Coming on as a sub in the second half saw a more energetic Colombian side with some exceptional runs, one which almost ended with the ball in the back of the net after a shot from 30 yards. The introduction of James induced pace, energy and creativity. With an assist and another goal to his name, James ensured that Colombia left the group stages with a statement.
In the Round of 16, Uruguay were Colombia’s opponents. Replicating the performances of his previous games, James continued to control play with ease. The first half saw what could be considered by many as the goal of the tournament. James controlled the ball after taking a touch with his chest and letting the ball fall ever so sweetly to set up a godly volley that could have torn the roof of the net. After the start of the second half, James stuck a vicious shot on goal. This was followed by some exceptional team play that resulted in Colombia’s second with none other than James scoring a tap in. Yet another deserved Man of the Match performance was given to the former Porto star.
Colombia’s last game of the tournament was a quarter final clash with hosts, Brazil. The game was a brutally physical contest with tackles, bruises and shouts of pain flying in one after the other. With James eventually getting on the score sheet for the last time via the penalty spot, it was sad to see such consistently brilliant performances be halted right there. The World Cup saw James earn many admirers with his incredible performances. His composure, incisiveness, creativity, maturity, finishing and overall talent was spectacularly showcased earning him the Golden Boot after finishing the tournament as the top scorer despite crashing out at the quarter final stage.
More from Talent Radar: James’ goal against Uruguay topped our list of Top 10 Goals at the World Cup by Young Players. James was also a part of Talent Radar’s Ligue 1 2013/14 Youngsters Team of the Season. James placed #3 in our list of 25 Young Players to Watch at the FIFA World Cup 2014. The youngster was also adjudged to be the Best Young Player in our Group C review and also starred in our World Cup awards as the Best Midfielder, Best Young Player, Best Young Midfielder, Best South American Player and was one of the first names in the Best XI and Best Young XI of the tournament. We also covered James’ performances against Greece and Ivory Coast as part of our Talent Radar feature.
James was also featured in our World Cup XI, named Midfielder of the World Cup, Best Young Player at the World Cup and best South American player at the World Cup in our World Cup Awards.
What does the future hold for him in the national team? James’ talent, ability, consistency and capability to perform at grand stages such as the World Cup would keep him as a characteristic member of the present as well as future Colombian national teams. He is well capable of taking this Colombian side to greater heights. It is likely to see him as the heartbeat of a very promising Colombian national team.
Other players in the list: #10 Memphis Depay | #9 Ahmed Musa | #8 Xherdan Shaqiri | #7 Paul Pogba | #6 Kevin De Bruyne | #5 Joel Campbell | #4 Ricardo Rodriguez | #3 Raphael Varane | #2 Neymar
Razim Refai is a co-founder and editor of Outside of the Boot.
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