It has been a wonderful month of football. Memorable games, fantastic goals and, overall, one joyous month-long party. This World Cup was rated as one of the best in years despite pre-event worries that it was going to be the most shambolic.
We’ve had own goals, super goals and goal-line technology; stalemates, blowouts and capitulations. From Belo Horizonte to Manaus, from Sao Paulo to Fortaleza, we saw great goals and great games.
From Copacabana beach to the Amazon jungle, the 32-day tournament will be remembered for terrific football and also because it went so smoothly, with no logistical disasters for the 32 teams and hundreds of thousands of travelling fans. There was no repeat of giant public protests that unsettled last year’s warm-up tournament, the Confederations Cup.
Rather, this tournament had rhythmic games and hip-shaking fans that captured the sheer joy and fun of a World Cup in the home of samba.
The build-up to the World Cup was dominated by legitimate fears over stadiums, infrastructure, safety and protests, but many of the concerns failed to materialise. Not everything was perfect — some construction projects were incomplete, while minor building work was still taking place at certain venues and airports as the tournament began. But the event ran fairly smoothly with few major issues.
On the field a few standouts raised their game to light up the tournament. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney were exceptions.
Lionel Messi was voted the best player of the tournament – not all agreed — but that was small consolation for failing to win the World Cup. Messi had already been voted the planet’s best player four times but what he really wanted was a World Cup, like his great compatriot Diego Maradona, to be considered a true legend. But Argentina’s loss to Germany in the final probably squashed any hope that Messi will ever plant a kiss on the cherished trophy. Instead, as Maradona will forever be synonymous with Argentina and the World Cup, Messi will have to do with being forever known for his exploits with Barcelona much more than with his country.
The gold trophy Messi won for best player was not the one he wanted (photo: ar.fifa)
The poster boy of this tournament, the man that all of Brazil loves and the name on the back of a million shirts — it was hard not to feel sorry for Neymar. The 22-year-old scored four goals yet his dream of guiding Brazil all the way to victory ended when he broke a vertebra in his back following a challenge by Colombia’s Juan Zuniga in their quarter-final tie.
The injury put Neymar out of the only World Cup he’ll ever play on home soil and robbed the tournament of its Brazilian superstar. Without its best player, the Brazil team was destroyed by Germany.
Neymar’s back injury forced him out of the tournament, breaking Brazilian hearts (photo: ar.fifa)
Critics insist there was an over-reliance, both emotionally and physically, by the team and its supporters on Neymar. Perhaps so but like it or not, Neymar carried the hopes of 200 million people on his young shoulders and did it with style, grace and humility.
Few inside the Estadio das Dunas in Natal could believe their eyes when Luis Suarez committed the most infamous act of this, or perhaps any other, World Cup. It was the bite seen on TVs and talked about around the world. Sinking teeth into the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in a group-stage game, Suarez was suspended for Uruguay’s last-16 match with Colombia — the first absence of a four-month ban — as it lost 2-0. Suarez had earlier knocked out England with a fantastic brace but he will be more remembered for his reprisal of Dracula and Hannibal the Cannibal.
Suarez helped himself to a part of Chiellini’s shoulder (photo: time)
Inside Arena Fonte Nova mouths fell open and even the Belgium players could only applaud as Tim Howard produced one of the great individual performances of the World Cup. The US goalkeeper was a one-man wall of steel, as Belgium bombarded his goal in Salvador. Howard made more saves (16) in a World Cup match than anyone since records began.
Howard saved almost everything Belgium threw at him (photo: go)
Miroslav Klose came into the tournament needing two goals to become the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer. He got them. The 36-year-old Lazio player scored with his first touch, from a yard out, against Ghana and become the joint top-scorer in World Cup history, alongside Ronaldo. He then scored his landmark 16th in the 7-1 rout of Ronaldo’s former side Brazil.
Klose about to break the World Cup goal record against Brazil ( photo: ar.fifa)
Klose’s compatriot Thomas Muller could well break the record. Muller finished with five in the net for a total of 10 altogether. Seeing that he’s only 24 and that Germany makes it to every World Cup, Muller could one day surpass Klose.
James, or Ha-mes, Rodriguez came out of nowhere to net six goals for the tournament’s top scorer. Two of those goals — the sublime pirouette before smashing the ball into the Uruguay crossbar and into the goal, and the way he pretzeled a Japanese defender before netting — are listed as some of the very best witnessed in Brazil.
Arjen Robben was mesmerising as he bore down on goalkeepers with his gung-ho, don’t look back approach but he lost some traction after admitting he does indeed dive.
There were huge upsets which made this World Cup spectacular. Germany humiliated Brazil in an historic 7-1 loss in the semi-finals. It was surreal, and one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history. Brazil imploded as Germany skewered it. It was a tragedy, a humiliation, and a spectacular meltdown to befall the five-time champion at its home World Cup. A trauma in front of the world for the football superpower. Compounding the calamity, Brazil also lost 3-0 to the Netherlands in the match for third place.
Brazil’s 7-1 defeat to Germany was one of the biggest upsets at any World Cup (photo: ar.fifa)
These unspeakables booted Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led Brazil to its last World Cup title in 2002 and last summer’s Confederations Cup in convincing fashion, out of the team.
Costa Rica came into the World Cup bereft of two of its best players and in a World Cup group with three former world champions. But it beat four-time champion Italy and two-time champion Uruguay on a ride to the quarterfinals which exemplified how supposedly small teams showed no fear of more illustrious opponents.
The disappointment of Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast left Nigeria and Algeria to fly the African flag — and they did their continent proud. The Desert Foxes in particular reached the knockout stage for the first time and produced a stirring last-16 display against Germany, only to succumb in extra time.
Defending champions Spain booked an early passage home following an incredible 5-1 loss to Holland, marking the possible end of the tiki taka era.
Against Spain, Van Persie scored one of the tournament’s greatest goals (ar.fifa)
England as usual failed to live up to the pre-hype, knocked out after just two games. Italy fared not much better.
There were some brilliant goals. James Rodriguez’s left-foot thunderbolt, Robin van Persie’s acrobatic header, Tim Cahill’s first-time strike and David Luiz’s rocket free kick created memories that will last a lifetime. Not to mention, for its importance, Super Mario Gotze’s killer strike against Argentina in the final.
Referees made the usual botched up calls but shockingly in some instances of violent and reckless play, they showed fewer yellow and red cards per game than at any World Cup since 1986. Their leniency, letting play flow, and team tactics of forward-minded, attacking football and quick counterattacks produced a near record number of goals and exhilarating and engrossing end-to-end games but often times they did not do enough to protect players from overzealous and at times intentional tough and dangerous tackling.
Goal-line technology was finally introduced, although it was hardly needed.
The vanishing spray that marks the 10 yards the wall must retreat and which disappears from the grass within a minute was a genuine success story of this World Cup.
The first cooling break in World Cup history took place in the intense heat of Fortaleza when Holland beat Mexico. It gave the players the chance to rehydrate.
The merchants of gloom and doom wrongly predicted Brazil couldn’t pull off its World Cup without major protests and problems. Transport tended to be smooth, security tight and public unrest largely absent, so much so that the organisers can now confidently ask what was everyone so worried about? After being plagued by doubts over whether the stadiums would be ready and stay standing, and if Brazil’s people would join in the fun or try to spoil it, their tournament was a winner.
The US provided the largest number of foreign fans in Brazil (photo: fancytattooideas)
Coaches embraced positive and ambitious tactics which partly led to the 171 goals which tied with France 1998 as the highest number of goals scored since the World Cup was first played with 32 teams over 64 matches.
In Brazil, the average was 2.67 goals per game whereas only 145 goals were scored at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa at an average of 2.27 per game.
Even if the Brazilian team fell disastrously short.
Even if the tournament cost $13 billion in a country in which there are stark economic inequalities.
Even if the largely white and seemingly well-off stadium crowds went to watch while Brazil’s black and mixed-race poorer citizens mostly saw the event from afar on television.
Singer Shakira performs during the closing ceremony (photo: ar.fifa)
On the whole this tournament has well and truly delivered.
The world will be an emptier place this week after Brazil hosted arguably the finest World Cup of the modern era.