(Reuters) - Colombia’s James Rodriguez was arguably the biggest break-out star at the 2014 World Cup, where the fresh-faced playmaker was top scorer and won over fans with his dazzling goals and dancing celebrations.
Now 26, Rodriguez has a lot more pressure on his shoulders with the Andean nation hoping the versatile midfielder will again propel them to at least the quarter-finals.
Since ‘James-mania’ swept Colombia during the World Cup in Brazil, Rodriguez has battled to find his footing at club level.
He struggled to hold down a first-team spot during a disappointing three-year stint at Real Madrid before being loaned last year to Bayern Munich.
In Germany, the left-footer has flourished, helping the team to clinch a sixth successive Bundesliga title in April, fanning hopes he will lead Colombia’s charge in Russia.
“You always want to do a good World Cup. I’m playing all the time in Bayern and that’s good for arriving with a good rhythm,” said Rodriguez recently.
‘Hamez’, as his first name is pronounced back home, is loved for his ability on the pitch but also his modest character and intense focus.
His fame ballooned at the last World Cup where he won the award for the tournament’s best goal with a phenomenal strike, powering the ball in off the bar from 20 metres against Uruguay.
Rodriguez’s talent was evident from the moment he signed as a boy at a soccer academy in a working-class area of the mountainous city of Ibague. He moved there from Cucuta, near Venezuela, after his parents split up.
His father was also a footballer but it was his mother Pilar — whose name Rodriguez has tattooed on his bicep — who raised him.
A prolific social media user, Rodriguez frequently posts pictures of his young daughter and proclaims his faith in God.
Asked recently what advice he would give to kids looking to follow in his footsteps, Rodriguez tweeted: “Never give up”.
Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Toby Davis