Weekend stars pursuing World Cup dreams
We’re close to two months away from the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and international hopefuls are making their case for a roster spot.
Here are five players aiming for a ticket to Brazil who stood out for their club’s last week:
• James Rodriguez (Colombia): With fellow countryman Radamel Falcao sidelined, Rodriguez has stepped up for Monaco. He scored twice and had an assist in a 3-1 win against Nantes to keep Monaco in the Ligue 1 title race. His 11 assists in domestic play are tied with Zlatan Ibrahimovic for most in the league.
Rodriguez played in all but one of Colombia’s FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, and led all players in South American qualifying with 43 chances created.
• Juan Mata (Spain): The Spanish playmaker is finding his form with new club Manchester United. After a slow start with United, Mata scored twice and assisted on another in a 4-0 win at Newcastle. Since his debut in January, Mata’s 28 chances created are the most on the team.
Mata made three appearances for Spain in qualifying, creating four scoring chances in those games and netting one against Georgia.
• Andre Ayew (Ghana): Marseille got a needed boost from Ayew on Friday in the form of a hat trick in a 3-1 win against Ajaccio. The win snapped a six-game winless streak for the French club. His hat trick was the first for a Marseille player in league play since Ayew had one against Nice on April 27, 2011. Ayew hopes to replicate his 2010 World Cup performance. His 13 chances created in South Africa were second only to Kevin-Prince Boateng’s 17 on the Ghana team.
• Mattia Destro (Italy): Roma’s winning form has been due in part to Destro’s play, as he showed against Cagliari. His hat trick in the 3-1 win gives him seven goals in six matches, all Roma wins.
The Italian striker didn’t influence much of his country’s qualifying campaign. Destro only played in three qualifiers for Italy, scoring a goal against Malta.
• Luis Gustavo (Brazil): The Brazilian holding midfielder had eight interceptions and six tackles, both team bests, in Wolfsburg’s 2-1 loss to Dortmund. He leads Wolfsburg in tackles (75) and is second in interceptions (62) this season.
Gustavo led his country with 16 interceptions during the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. He also had the highest pass completion percentage (91.9 percent) for Brazilian players with more than 100 passes during that tournament.