There were some nerves heading into the 2014 World Cup. Concerns about safety, political unrest, climate, and pitch conditions all were raised in the lead up to the tournament, but once Brazil and Croatia kicked things off on June 13th, all eyes were fixed firmly on the pitch.
That first game, with all the pageantry and pride of Brazil on full display, provided some inkling, or perhaps warning, of things to come. Brazil won 3-1, but Croatia was the better team in all but the scoreline. Brazil survived thanks to some highly questionable refereeing, and some missed chances by the Croatians. Brazil’s tournament might have started successfully, but a month later the country was singing a much more bitter sporting song.
The second day the first real shock of the tournament came in the form of the Oranje army masquerading in their blue jerseys for the day. In a rematch of the 2010 final in Johannesburg, Spain and the Netherlands put on a much more exciting performance (except maybe from a Spanish perspective), that saw the Dutch thrash their way to a 5-1 revenge scoreline. It didn’t get much better from there for the defending champs, as they lost to Chile 2-0 in their next match and were the sent home in the first round.Other europeans powers didn’t fare much better than La Furia Roja. England, Italy, and Portugal all left South America with disappointingly short campaigns as well.
CONCACAF (the North American federation) made a big display despite having only four teams in the tournament, and were often antagonists of the European cause. Mexico knocked out Croatia, while tournament darlings Costa Rica were most responsible for the English and Italian exits. The USMNT for their part helped send the World’s best player home early, though he (Christiano Ronaldo) did manage to inflict some serious psychological damage on the Americans with his last second assist to tie their game.
Asia and Africa had two different experiences. While the Africans saw two teams advance to the knockout stage for the first time, the Asians were easily the most disappointing federation with no teams making it through.
South American performed well on home soil, with all but Ecuador progressing. However, with four teams set to face one another in one of the semifinal brackets, it meant that only two could actually make it through to the final. Their was the usual array of upstart teams headlined by the Costa Ricans. The Ticos made a stirring run to the quarters before just being edged out by a better Dutch unit. Colombia, and dark horses Belgium also made quarter finals runs, the latter coming at the expense of the Americans and a truly heroic Tim Howard.
After all the dust settled, the last four was composed of some usual suspects, thought the matches that followed were anything but. Most thought that the Dutch-Spanish contest on day two would be the shock of the tournament, but twenty-nine minutes of the German National Machine saw to that. Brazil, a team that had hope, prayed, and paid for success in this tournament, were left in tatters. The 7-1 obliteration set numerous records of futility for the Brazilian side, and their subsequent loss to the Dutch in the third place match all but ruined the reputation of Brazil’s storied footballing culture. Argentina squeaked by the Dutch on penalties, and in the final they looked to do the same to the Germans until a young man named Mario saw to it that Germany would win its first world title as a unified country.
Germany was the embodiment of a team, as they so often are, but plenty of individual talents were on display during the last month as well. Young stars like James Rodriguez and Xherdan Shaqiri arrived with a flurry of goals. While veteran goalkeepers like Howard and Guillermo Ochoa gained admiration by preventing chance after chance. The Dutch duo of Robin Van Persia and Arjen Robben created headaches for every defense they face. Neymar scored often for the Brazilians before a fractured vertebrae spelled the end of his tournament and Brazil’s hopes. Messi’s brilliance couldn’t save Argentina, though it nearly did. He won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, but falling so painfully short of the ultimate prize made the honor little more than a hollow consolation.
With 171 goals scored, tied with France 98 for most ever, the tournament was an offensive joy. It’s always bittersweet when a World Cup tournament comes to an end, and today is no exception. Only 1426 days until Putin’s tourney kicks off. It will be a long four years, but there will be plenty of soccer, both domestically and internationally, to keep the interest until then. In the meantime, bravo Brazil! It’s been a fun ride.