July 3, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Young stars for Brazil, Colombia square off in World Cup quarterfinal

Colombia's midfielder James Rodriguez controls the ball during a training session Thursday at Fortaleza's University campus ahead of Saturday's quarterfinal against Brazil. (Eitan Abramovich / Getty Images)

Fortaleza, Brazil — Brazil striker Neymar and Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez have led their teams to the World Cup quarterfinals, dominating the attention and the scoring.

The 22-year-old stars will go head-to-head when Brazil plays Colombia today, and only one will get the chance to continue his run at the tournament.

Wearing the No. 10 jerseys, both have lived up to expectations so far, enough to be included in discussions about the tournament’s best players along with established stars such as Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben.

Neymar has been decisive for Brazil, scoring four goals in four matches. Rodriguez has been crucial for Colombia with his tournament-leading five goals and creativity in attack.

“I already knew that James was a great player,” Neymar said. “And now he has been showing his talent at the World Cup.”

Rodriguez has been one of the tournament’s sensations so far and has helped Colombia get over the absence of star striker Radamel Falcao, who missed the tournament because of a knee injury.

It didn’t take long for Rodriguez to become the focal point of a Colombia team that won all its four matches, seemingly without any real difficulty.

“It’s not easy to achieve what I’ve done, but my view is that when you have a dream and you really pursue it and picture things like this happening, then it can become a reality,” Rodriguez told FIFA.com. “If you want something and you work hard for it, then it can happen.”

The Monaco player scored in each match, including two against Uruguay in the second round, and has been voted player of the match three times. One of the goals against Uruguay is considered one of the best of the tournament so far. He chested the ball and quickly turned to fire a powerful shot over the goalkeeper from the top of the penalty area.

Rodriguez had already scored a stunning goal against Japan in the group stage, flicking the ball over the goalkeeper after getting past a defender with a nifty move inside the box.

“James is outstanding despite also being young,” Neymar said. “He has been showing that he is a great player and needs to be congratulated for the tournament that he has been having. But I hope his run ends now and that Brazil advances.”

The Brazilian forward came to the tournament amid a lot more hype than Rodriguez, already knowing that he was carrying the responsibility of leading his team to the title on home soil.

Neymar scored twice in the difficult 3-1 opening win over Croatia, then added two in the 4-1 rout of Cameroon in the group stage. The Barcelona star also showed his cool by calmly converting his penalty in the tense shootout against Chile in the second round.

“I don’t know who will play better, I just hope that Brazil comes out on top,” Neymar said, referring to his duel with Rodriguez. “I’ve already said before the World Cup started that I don’t care about being the best player or the top scorer, all I want is to win the title. If I don’t play well but Brazil wins, I’ll still be happy.”

Shades of '82

When Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer embarked on a series of hair-raising dashes out of his area in the second-round win over Algeria, it would have struck a chord with French football fans of a certain vintage.

Thoughts no doubt returned to a shocking incident in World Cup history, which occurred in the 1982 semifinal between West Germany and France and involved another goalkeeper’s excursion off his line.

Harald Schumacher’s airborne challenge on Patrick Battiston, which knocked the France defender unconscious but went unpunished, still raises anger and emotion in France, predictably making it a talking point ahead of today’s quarterfinal match.

France coach Didier Deschamps said, “Tomorrow we will write a new page of history — we’ll try to make it as pleasant as possible.”

Schedule

All games on ESPN, CBC and Univision unless noted

QUARTERFINALS

Friday’s games

Game 57: Brazil vs. Colombia, 4 p.m. ESPN2

Game 58: France vs. Germany, noon

Saturday’s games

Game 59: Netherlands vs. Costa Rica, 4 p.m. ABC

Game 60: Argentina vs. Belgium, noon

SEMIFINALS

Tuesday’s game

Game 61: Game 57 winner vs. Game 58 winner, 4 p.m.

Wednesday’s game

Game 62: Game 59 winner vs. Game 60 winner, 4 p.m.

THIRD PLACE

Saturday, July 12

Game 63: 4 p.m.

CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday, July 13

Game 64: 3 p.m. ABC