Neymar, Rodriguez share world cup limelight

JAMES Rodriguez and Neymar showed the bright and sporting side of individual South American football talent in Saturday’s last 16 matches at the World Cup in stark contrast to the furore sparked by the Luis Suarez biting incident.

The fresh-faced 22-year-old Rodriguez — who has lived up to the mantle of being ‘El Pibe Nuevo’ (the new kid) as successor to Colombian playmaking great Carlos Valderrama — scored a double, including a wonder-goal to see off South American champion Uruguay 2-0 and take his tally to five for the finals.

Rodriguez has shown maturity beyond his years in assuming the responsibility of inspiring the team which had been left devastated prior to the finals when iconic striker Radamel Falcao was ruled out because of injury.

Rodriguez ­— who like Falcao plays for French championship runner-up Monaco — earned high praise from a gracious Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez.

“For me, special talents are those who do things that are completely out of the ordinary,” said Tabarez.

“Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez ­— they do things because they have certain gifts that make them special.”

Tabarez refused to blame his side’s defeat on their being distracted by defending Suarez over the biting incident that resulted in his expulsion from the finals, a four-month global ban from world football, a nine game international ban and a six-figure dollar fine.

Neymar came into the finals under enormous pressure after a mixed debut season with Barcelona.

However, he also showed that at 22 he can handle it as he tucked away the penultimate penalty in the shootout with Chile, who had more than matched them during 120 tense but absorbing minutes that ended in a 1-1 draw.

That gave the hosts a 3-2 lead in the shootout and put the pressure on Chile’s final penalty taker Gonzalo Jara, who missed to keep alive the dreams of 200 million Brazilians that they can land their sixth world title on home turf.

“He is 22 but he plays as if he were 35,” purred Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari when asked about Neymar’s pressure spot-kick. “He handles the pressure naturally. He is so strong mentally and you could see even when we was 17 or 18 that he was ready.”

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