Checking in with the stars of this summer's World Cup

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By PATRICK LEARY
College Contributor Network

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil provided more excitement than any in recent memory. It came replete with late-match drama, bags of goals, political unrest and angry protests, to boot. Brazil failed, North and South American upstarts shined and Germany triumphed.

Most of all, the 2014 tournament launched the careers of a few previously overshadowed or unknown young stars. Here's a look at what five of them have been up to since July.

James Rodriguez, Colombia:

The title of breakout star at the 2014 World Cup undoubtedly belongs to Rodriguez. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder was expected to play second fiddle to Falcao for Los Cafeteros as he had at Monaco the year before, but the dominant striker tore his ACL in January. When he was officially ruled out before the final roster cut, many expected Colombia to struggle offensively.

Instead, Rodriguez defied expectations, scoring six goals in five matches, at least one in every game he played, and grabbed the Golden Boot. Miraculously, due to FIFA being ridiculous, he didn't win Best Young Player since he had been nominated for the Golden Ball, which Argentina's Lionel Messi won.

Since the tournament, Rodriguez made a splashy $108 million move to Real Madrid. Read that again: $108 MILLION! According to his ESPN FC profile, this was the fourth-most expensive transfer of all-time, behind his teammates Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo and notorious masticator Luis Suarez of Barcelona (it could potentially be the fifth-most, as the value of Neymar's transfer to Barcelona remains heavily disputed).

After arriving in the Spanish capital, he has forced the transfer of one of Real's best players, Angel Di Maria, to Manchester United since the midfield became too crowded. He has one goal and two assists in seven league matches and added a goal in Real's Champions League opener against FC Basel.

Expect Rodriguez to continue on his path to superstardom and become an undisputed top-10 player in the world in the next few years.

Keylor Navas, Costa Rica:

With apologies to Tim Howard, Memo Ochoa and Manuel Neuer, Navas was the most impressive goalkeeper at the World Cup. A relative unknown who spent the 2013-2014 season as the starting 'keeper for Levante, the 10th-place finishers in Spain, Navas exploded onto the international scene in Brazil.

In five matches, he conceded just two goals and shut out European soccer powers Italy, England and the Netherlands. He led Costa Rica to the top of a group that included three former World Cup winners and to the nation's first appearance in the tournament's quarterfinals.

In August, Real Madrid bought out Navas' contract for more than $12 million and signed him to a six-year contract. The Costa Rican currently sits at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Spanish stalwart Iker Casillas, but Casillas' age suggests Navas could be Real's goalkeeper of the future. Navas has started one La Liga match, a 5-1 win over Elche.

Mario Gotze, Germany:

Slightly overshadowed in a German midfield with attacking juggernauts Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, Gotze played off-and-on in the 2014 World Cup, and did not feature in Germany's semifinal drubbing of Brazil. But Gotze cemented his name in history in the final by coming on in the 87th minute and scoring the trophy-clinching goal in the second half of extra time.

Since a controversial 2013 transfer from Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich, Gotze has shined for the German stalwarts. He is tearing up the Bundesliga this season, with four goals in five league appearances. At just 22-years-old, he's one of the most promising young footballers in the world.

Daley Blind, Netherlands:

Little known outside of Holland, where he played for Dutch giants Ajax, Blind broke out in the opening-match spanking of defending-champion Spain. In that match, the left back had two assists, including a beautiful pass to Robin van Persie to set up his flying header, one of goals of the tournament. A rock of the Dutch defense, Blind led the Netherlands to a semifinal appearance.

In desperate need of a defensive presence, Manchester United snapped up Blind for $17 million just days before the transfer deadline. He debuted on Sept. 14, and has featured in four Premier League matches, mostly in defensive midfield. His World Cup manager, Louis Van Gaal, is also his manager with the Red Devils.

Paul Pogba, France:

In lieu of Rodriguez, 21-year-old midfielder Pogba won the Best Young Player award at Brazil 2014. He played in all five of France's matches, totaling one goal and one assist. He left his legacy with his vicious, fearless midfield style and his unique hairstyle that must be seen to be believed.

Before the World Cup, Pogba was best known for his acrimonious exit from Manchester United and move to Juventus -- one of Sir Alex Ferguson's worst moments as manager. He had seven goals and seven assists for Juve in 2013-2014 and has recorded one assist in five matches in the current campaign. The Italian giants are in the process of extending the Frenchman's contract to keep him at the heart of the club for years to come.


Patrick Leary is a senior at Marquette University. He thinks Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher on God's green earth. Follow him on Twitter: @patrickkleary
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