WASHINGTON, July 1, 2014 — All eyes are riveted on the World Cup as the teams move toward the final game on July 13. The tournament has already provided exceptional play, and there is more to come in the next two weeks.
Some of the players in the 2014 World Cup are already considered the greatest of all time, and other young protégées are waiting to take their crown.
Here are four players to get to know and watch in this year’s World Cup.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Lionel Messi is an amazing talent in a small package. Although he is official listed at 5’7” many believe he looks closer to just over 5’5”. At only 26 years old, the Atomic Flea, is consistently placed on the short list of greatest players ever.
The Argentinean has spent the last nine years playing for Barcelona’s football club, leading them to numerous league titles and creating a team others in the international community fear drawing against and breaking numerous personal, team and league records along the way.
Messi has been chosen as the best player in the world by FIFA, four out of the last five years.
Despite his unmatched statistics, Messi remains in the shadow of El Diego, Diego Maradona, a controversial figure who during his playing years failed drug tests for cocaine and ephedrine and who’s most famous international moment came when a goal was scored by Maradona, during the 1986 World Cup after he put out his left hand and the ball bounced off of his hand and into the net. The handball was never called and the goal stood. After the game Maradona told the press that the goal was “scored with the head of Maradona and the hand of God”. That goal will forever be known as the Hand of God goal.
Argentina still place the eccentric Maradona above Messi because El Diego led that 1986 team to victory and took home the World Cup, something Messi has yet to be able to do.
Another strike against Messi in his countrymen’s eyes is that he left Argentina too young, going to Barcelona at the age of 13 to play soccer. Although he has never lost his Argentinean accent, they wonder if he is really more Spanish now.
But all would be forgiven if he could win them a World Cup.
Many believe Messi is hungry to come out of that shadow and this could be his year.
Lionel Messi has already scored four of Argentina’s six goals, only one shy of Maradona’s total 28 years ago.
Messi has never been on a World Cup team that has made it past the semifinals; a victory today against Switzerland will end that streak.
Messi is playing in top form and full health after struggling with hamstring injuries last year.
Now all he needs is the rest of his team to support their leader.
The Brazilian looks like he might get injured out on the pitch. With his 5’9 inch frame being supported by his 150 lbs body he resembles any other 22 year old playing a local pickup game but watch him play and there is no mistaking the skill of this young man.
Neymar has had strong support from Brazilian soccer icons such as Pele, but he has also had his fair share of doubters in large part due to his small frame.
This past season Neymar signed a highly lucrative deal to join Barcelona FC and with that, the doubters were silenced. Why?
Neymar is fast.
Brazil soccer play embodies the term, “the beautiful game”. To watch any Brazilian team is simply beautiful. There is grace and precision as they move down the pitch. Neymar plays the beautiful game but he plays it explosive.
It is believed that once he gets a little more experience, Naymar will become one of the greatest players ever.
The host nation has put the responsibility of a sixth World Cup trophy on such a young man’s shoulders.
At the moment, Brazilians at awaiting word on if Neymar will even get to play in the quarter final against Columbia after suffering knee and thigh injuries during the last game with Chile.
An entire nation is holding their breath as conflicting reports are surfacing over the severity of his injuries.
Thomas Muller, Germany
It is not terribly difficult to know whether Germany is going to win a game. Simply look at how Thomas Muller is playing. If he is playing well, everything is good, but if he is off, the whole team falls apart.
Muller came up through Germany’s youth soccer system and remains with a German team, Bayern Munich, today. And his countrymen love him for it.
Thomas Muller is a thinking player. He seems to constantly be thinking and planning for all possible outcomes of his next play.
His ball dribbling and not a thing a beauty like some of the other players in the World Cup but he seems to intuitively know where to place the ball and how find the gaps in the opponent.
Because of his calm head and instantaneous mathematical calculations during a game, his style of play comes across and completely unpredictable.
Muller, who has a good chance of ending up as the top scorer in the World Cup was in unusually poor form against Algeria, a game that many thought Germany would easily dominate.
The cool and calculating Muller looked unsure and tired against Algeria. A performance that included a bizarre free kick show in which Muller pretended to slip before reaching the ball, then got up and jumped over it only to run to a terrible position to await the kick. Needless to say, this plan was unsuccessful.
Muller had other chances against Algeria but was never able to compose himself.
Germany was lucky to move out the semi-finals. Next on their schedule in France. It will not take long to know how Germany will do against another European powerhouse. The German fans will be asking only one question. How does Muller look?
James Rodriguez, Colombia
James, pronounced Hah-mays, Rodriguez is the surprise breakout start of this year’s World Cup to everyone except his fellow Columbians.
Rodriguez is a 22 year old phenomenon who also happens to be extremely hansome.
This 22 year old has moved ahead of the last World Cup top goal scorer, Thomas Muller, for the top spot in this year’s competition.
Not only has he scored the most goals, he has scored absolutely beautiful goals.
So far, Columbia has scored 11 goals in the 2014 World Cup and Rodriguez has been involved either by scoring or assisting in seven of them.
James Rodriguez is difficult to strategize against because he plays in virtually every position on the field. He plays left, right or center as well as midfield, forward or outside wing, no one is ever 100 percent sure where he will line up until he takes his position on the pitch.
Although he is left footed, he can control a ball expertly with his right as well.
He is a thinker on the field but also quick combining the two most dangerous traits.
It is being reported that Spain’s Real Madrid, is trying to bring him to the team for a $68.6 million contract.
When Neymar and Brazil match up with Rodriguez and Columbia on Friday, July 4, fireworks will erupt on that pitch.