There’s little that compares to the emptiness a football fan feels after the World Cup is over but after what was surely one of the finest tournaments in history it’s a bigger loss than ever.
Brazil’s World Cup promised a festival of football and they delivered in spades. From the opener some four and a half weeks ago in Sao Paulo to Sunday’s final in the fabled Maracanã, this year’s World Cup was an absolutely enthralling month of football with fantastic games, amazing stories and plenty of drama. All the worries beforehand about the lack of some big players, readiness of the venues and protests melted away as the World Cup got underway.
It’s hard to condense all of the action from the World Cup into one post, but here is my review of the 2014 tournament:
My favourite story of the World Cup was Costa Rica’s incredible run to the brink of the semi-finals. Before the tournament they were, alongside Honduras, the rank outsiders to win the competition, sitting at 2500-1 to lift the trophy at the end. In a group with three former World Cup winners (Uruguay, Italy and England) they were expected to be nothing more than whipping boys. Out they came against Uruguay though and managed to counter-attack their way to a stunning 3-1 win. They managed to repeat the feat a few days later as they beat Italy with Bryan Ruiz scoring just before half time. Not only did they go through from one of the Groups of Death but they marched further on as they beat Greece.
It was heartbreak in the end for them, though, as they managed to take the Dutch to penalties with a brilliant backs-against-the-wall performance before the toll of their efforts, and substitute keeper Tim Krul, got the better of them to send them out. Their fairy-tale run through the tournament was symbolic of what was a great World Cup for teams that aren’t traditionally powerhouses of the game – as Colombia, Chile, Belgium and Mexico all put in great efforts and could have gone further had the draw been kinder to them. It’s testament to this that James Rodriguez, a midfielder for Colombia, won the tournament’s golden boot with 6 goals – with his first against Uruguay being my favourite of the World Cup.
In terms of matches with drama this World Cup wasn’t lacking. On the second day of competition we saw the systematic destruction of the Spanish reign of football dominance as they were hammered 5-1 by an unfancied Holland side. The group stage produced more exciting games than I ever remember seeing, as teams went for the win rather than settling for a draw. Perhaps my favourite game I saw in the World Cup was Belgium’s 2-1 win over the USA in the last 16, which was probably the most exciting game I’ve ever seen that ended 0-0 after 90 minutes. Both sides had great chances to win, and even as Belgium came out firing in the first half of extra time the USA managed to get themselves back into the game and gave themselves plenty of opportunities to level. In the end Belgium pulled through, but I was on the edge of my seat for most of the game.
The best match of the tournament, though, has got to be the first semi-final where Germany ran riot against the hosts Brazil beating them 7-1. The records tumbled as the weight of expectation on the Seleção came crushing down in little under half an hour. It was hard to keep up with the madness of the game at times, with Germany managing to go from 1-0 up to 5-0 up within just seven minutes. Miroslav Klose took Ronaldo’s all-time top World Cup goalscorer accolade for himself during the game as well to rub salt into the Brazilian wounds. Brazil’s tags as favourites in their own country always looked shaky, but losing Neymar and, more importantly I feel, their captain and centre back Thiago Silva put paid to their hopes of reaching the final and getting their 6th win.
The final, unlike four years ago, was a great encounter – even if it did lack goals up until Mario Götze’s magnificent control and finish seven minutes from the end of extra time. Both sides were keen to play attacking football, and Argentina had the better of the chances even if they didn’t manage to put any on target. Germany were worthy winners of the game, controlling it for the most part and having more energy towards the end, but had Argentina and their main man Lionel Messi shown a little more composure in their finishing they could have ended up the winners.
I think the tournament really benefitted from not having a team that dominated throughout the competition, leaving the million dollar question of which team would win wide open until the German master class in Belo Horizonte. After a tremendously open group stage with more goals than ever seen before, the knockout stages became tighter – as the strongest sides in the competition like Brazil, Holland, Germany and France were pushed by Chile, Mexico, Algeria and Nigeria. Rather than having teams that were full of stars towards the end, those that progressed far in the tournament either did so off the back of solid teams (Germany/Holland) or from the brilliance of an individual (Neymar for Brazil and Messi for Argentina). This extra layer of unpredictability made the cagier knock-out stage just as exciting, as even though the favourites generally won each match there was rarely a game where the winners were infallible.
After all is said and done though, Germany were deserving winners of their 4th title and their first since the country’s reunification in 1990. It’s hard to think of a better all-round team in recent years in international football, and their fluid style got them through in the end, even if they did have some blips against Ghana and Algeria. Germany have been so close to winning a major championship many times over the last twelve years since their last World Cup final appearance in Japan, and it was good to see the side rewarded with the biggest prize in the game. They may still be one behind Brazil on the all-important win counter, but with two more final appearances and an unbelievable record of reaching the quarter-finals in each of the last 16 World Cups, you could make a strong argument for them being the best footballing nation in history.
It may be over, but this World Cup will certainly live long in the memory as one of the most entertaining in years, if not ever. It equalled the highest goal tally in history, clocking in at 171 goals alongside France 98 and featured open, attacking play throughout the competition. Instead of the defensive displays we saw in South Africa, this World Cup saw counter-attacks being the order of the day. The quality of the tournament may have been the only of my pre-tournament predictions to come to pass, but I’m glad it was that one.
It may be all over, but luckily the season starts again in just a few weeks. Scottish football might not be able to live up to the quality of Germany and Argentina, but it’ll do until next time. The Euros in France kick-off in just 695 days.