FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) — With his five goals, his bright yellow jersey and his boyish looks, James Rodriguez has attracted the attention of Brazil.
Precocious and virtuoso are just two of the words used to describe the 22-year-old playmaker ahead of Colombia's World Cup quarterfinal match against host Brazil on Friday.
Just 22, he is already Colombia's top scorer at a World Cup and is the leading scorer so far at the 2014 tournament. For many, the player who wears the name James (pronounced: HA-mez) on his jersey has been a revelation at the World Cup.
But for those who have followed his football career, there has been no surprise. They knew that he was talented, had a winning mentality and could give Colombians something they have been awaiting for a long time. He has been consolidating himself as the replacement of Carlos "el Pibe" Valderrama, the leading figure of a national team that played in three World Cups in the 1990s.
Faustino Asprilla, an ex-Colombia player from that generation, said that Rodriguez "can be the best Colombian footballer in history."
His technical abilities have been exceptional and he has shown them off in Brazil. He scores with surprising ease. He has scored in each of Colombia's matches, and he has done it with both feet and his head.
In Colombia's 2-0 win over Uruguay, he controlled the ball with his chest and shot from outside the area to score perhaps the most stunning goal of the tournament.
"Football needs players of his characteristics for this spectacle," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. "For the moment, he's the best player at this World Cup."
Despite his nickname, "el Nino" arrived in Brazil with the curriculum of a veteran: eight years playing as a professional in Colombia, Argentina, Portugal and France. His professional debut came when he was 15 for Colombian team Envigado.
Rodriguez also became the youngest foreign player to debut, score and become a champion in Argentina, where his performances were a springboard for a move to Europe.
In 2010, he moved to Porto, where he shared a dressing room with fellow Colombia teammates Radamel Falcao, Fredy Guarin and, later on, Jackson Martinez. In Portugal, he won three league titles and the Europa League before signing with Monaco, which paid 45 million euros for his transfer last season.
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