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James and Fred, legends since youth days
by Paul Kennedy, June 27th, 2014 8:01PM

TAGS:  brazil, chile, colombia, uruguay, world cup 2014


[WORLD CUP: Spotlight] The knockout stage begins Saturday with Colombia-Uruguay and Brazil-Chile. Colombia and Brazil are favored and both feature one-name stars with very American-sounding names. James Rodriguez -- James for short, "Hames" in Spanish -- was discovered playing Pony futbol a decade ago. Fred is returning home to Belo Horizonte -- where locals call him "Freddjjee" and remember him for scoring one of the fastest goals on record.


June 28 in Rio de Janeiro
TV: ABC, Univision/UDN 4 p.m. ET

STORYLINE. Everything would seem to point to a Colombia victory -- the Cafeteros were one of the most impressive teams in the group stage with three wins -- but a victory over Uruguay would be a first. Colombia has only reached the knockout stage once, and lost, falling to Cameroon in overtime in 1990.

Uruguay, on the other hand, made the final four for the fifth time in 2010. The Celeste will be without Luis Suarez, whose moment of madness costs him a nine-game suspension.

The pressure will entirely be on Colombia, whose success has prompted unprecedented support among its long-suffering fans. Government officials are so concerned about violent celebrations that many cities have imposed a 24-hour ban on the sale of alcohol.

PLAYER TO WATCH. James Rodriguez has emerged from the shadows of injured countryman Radamel Falcao, his teammate at French club Monaco, to become one of the stars of the World Cup with goals in each of the group stage matches, in addition to his slick contributions on Colombia's six other goals.

James is only 22, but he is not an unknown quantity. He starred in Pony futbol a decade ago (see video), the youth program that's produced many Colombian stars, and moved to Argentine club Banfield at the age of 17 and then to Porto two years later.

Favorite: Colombia.


June 28 in Belo Horizonte
TV: ABC, Univision/UDN noon ET

Like Colombia-Uruguay, Brazil-Chile is a matchup of South American teams, one a former champion (five times) and the other a perennial underachiever.

Chile has never won a game in the knockout stage since it hosted the World Cup in 1962 -- indeed, La Roja had never won a game at the tournament after 1962 until its  two victories in 2010 -- but it is being given a chance against the hosts by everyone, it seems, except its media back home.

The Chilean press insists La Roja won't get a break from the referee, England's Howard Webb. Of greater concern to the Chileans should be the health of stars Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal. Medel may not play, while Vidal is less than 100 percent, having had knee surgery in May and then injuring his Achilles tendon.

PLAYER TO WATCH. Fred finds himself filling huge footsteps as Brazil's center forward. He'll never make Brazilian fans forget Romario and Ronaldo, who led Brazil to its last two World Cup titles, and his play in Brazil's first two games did nothing to quiet his detractors.

But Fred will have plenty of support in Belo Horizonte. He was born in the state of Minas Gerais, of which Belo Horizonte is the capital, and he played for BH clubs America-MG and Cruzeiro before moving to France in 2005.

"It's always a different energy when I play at Mineirao in Belo Horizonte," said Fred. "I have had great games, scored many goals, it is different, I have more confidence. I know the way, I feel at home here."

No goal was scored faster than the goal 3.17 seconds into an America-MG youth cup match (see video).

Favorite: Brazil.

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