Nick Westby: World Cup party is enriched by Rodriquez and the Perfect 10s

Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the group C World Cup soccer match between Colombia and Ivory Coast
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the group C World Cup soccer match between Colombia and Ivory Coast
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Brazil 2014 has been the World Cup for the Perfect 10.

In a tournament of attacking ingenuity rather than mean-spirited defending – the disappointing hallmark of South Africa four years ago – the role of the man in the No 10 shirt has been instrumental, and enriched the tournament.

Lionel Messi, Neymar, Karim Benzema and James Rodriquez have shared 14 goals between them in elevating their nations to the top of their respective groups and into the knockout phase with genuine hopes of going all the way.

That Messi and Neymar have delivered is a particular thrill, given their reputations at club level and the burden of expectation placed on their shoulders by their respective nations.

Messi is one defining World Cup away from truly joining Diego Maradona and Pele – the two most famous No 10s of all – in the pantheon of the game’s greatest.

Taking his nation to World Cup glory is the only thing missing from the little magician’s scrapbook, and if the first three games are anything to go by, he is well on the way to doing so.

Having accumulated just one goal in two previous tournaments, and being almost kicked out of the last one four years ago, Messi has struck four times in three games.

In the first two games his goals actually lifted Argentina to victory, with a nation backed as well as any visiting team in Brazil, flattering to deceive in what was one of the weakest groups.

Neymar, Messi’s clubmate at Barcelona, has been the one true shining light of hosts Brazil.

He gave them lift off with a raking drive and a penalty on the opening night against Croatia, and then settled any jitters with two flashes of individual flair in the victory over Cameroon that was not as emphatic as the scoreline suggested.

As well as his goal, Neymar’s flicks and touches, vision and panache bring to mind the great Brazilians of yesteryear, a gilded bunch the rest of his compatriots are yet to live up to.

Benzema is a different No 10 to the other three.

A goalscorer by trade, he has never delivered on the big stage before, despite all his years of experience at the highest levels of club football with Real Madrid.

Yet in Brazil, Benzema has embodied the new-look, vibrant French. Surrounded by youthful exuberance like Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann, Benzema has delivered the cutting edge.

He has three goals to his name but should have six, were it not for his accurate volley against Honduras hitting the post and only finding the net via the backside of the goalkeeper, and had he not missed a penalty and had a goal chalked off because a heartbeat before he struck a sweet first-time strike from 20 yards in off the post in the romp over Switzerland, the referee inexplicably blew the full-time whistle.

Benzema has been around so long it’s hard to believe he’s only 26, but he has finally matured into France’s perfect 10.

The fourth member of the illustrious quartet is the most unheralded of them all.

James Rodriquez (Ha-mees as it is pronounced) has arguably been the find of the tournament.

In the absence of Falcao, many expected Colombia to struggle, but Rodriquez, at just 22, has been pivotal in their charge through the group stages, scoring and making a goal in every one of their three games to date.

Playing off a striker or filling in that void himself, Rodriquez is gifted with both feet and deadly in the air as he showed against the Ivory Coast.

Football fans with a wide-ranging knowledge of the tapestry of the European game will know he excelled at Porto after moving over from South America as a teenager and was last season spirited away from Portugal for the princely sum of 45m euros by Monaco.

There he deputised for Falcao when injury struck him down, just as adeptly as he has done for his nation.

Because he brings an element of the unknown, Rodriquez for me has been the player of the tournament so far.

What the exploits of each of them highlights is the inadequacies of England’s own No 10 – Wayne Rooney.

Having supported him before the tournament in this newspaper, it was disappointing to see him fail to elevate England beyond their customary mediocrity.

Yes he finally scored in a World Cup finals, but did he inspire and drive his nation forward? Sadly not.

That is the job of the Perfect 10 – and it is to this tournament’s eternal merit that it has four of them.