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We all expected this to be the World Cup of Neymar — the 22-year-old goal-scorer who wears the famous No. 10 shirt for Brazil and goes by a single name.
Instead it has become the World Cup of James — the Colombian who's also 22, also wears the No. 10 shirt, and also only needs to be referred to by one name.
James Rodríguez, (pronounced hahm-ess) has five goals in four games for Colombia. He has been the catalyst for a team that has taken on (or, perhaps, stolen) the Brazilian identity at this World Cup, playing a flamboyant, attacking style of soccer complete with choreographed goal celebrations. Colombia has outscored its opponents 11-2 in its first four games, and James has had a hand in seven of those goals.
The first of his two goals against Uruguay in the Round of 16 was one of the best individual goals of the entire tournament:
James has long been hailed as the Colombian Cristiano Ronaldo. But much of that comparison is based on the fact that he physically looks like the Portuguese star. James plays more centrally than Ronaldo, and despite leading the World Cup in goals scored he's still more of a playmaker than a finisher.
He plays for AS Monaco, a French team that's in the Champions League this year after getting bought by a Russian oligarch.
The team paid $91 million for James and Joao Moutinho last summer, but there's already talk that he could be moving to one of Europe's powerhouses after his World Cup performance:
James Rodriguez: "I prefer Real Madrid to Barcelona". He did not waste much time positioning himself
— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) June 28, 2014
James hasn't just attracted attention from big clubs, he has become one of the must-watch players of the World Cup. Another famous James has taken notice:
— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 28, 2014
His coach, Jose Pekerman praised James at length after the Uruguay performance (via the Independent):
"What is most surprising is that at his young age he does not have any objection, any problem in being responsible for doing things that football players take many years to understand.
"Football forces you to deal with a lot of situations, you have to handle these situations and we have a technical player who has every attribute of a top-notch player at a world level.
"I greatly praise what he has been doing and I never had any doubts that this was going to be his World Cup. James Rodriguez's World Cup."
James next takes the field on Friday in the juiciest match-up of the World Cup so far, Brazil vs. Colombia.
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