From joy to heartbreak, from creating history to missing opportunities – Brazil 2014 has seen it all. Germany may have won in the end, but over the 32 days, 64 matches and 12 cities that the World Cup was staged over, goals have been scored, hearts have been won and new superstars have emerged and careers have been defined. Total Football takes a look at the 6 things at this World Cup that have made it arguably the most memorable in recent years.
1. David beating Goliath
The names Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Islam Slimani and Faouzi Ghoulam were hardly household before the World Cup and even after its conclusion few will remember them. But during the one-month extravaganza, these players were the center of the two of the most wonderful stories in the World.
While Tim Howard might have set social media ablaze for his incredible shot-stopping exhibition against Belgium, Navas was the competition’s real ‘Secretary of Defense’. The Levante goalie was at the heart of a Costa Rican defense that let in just 2 goals throughout their stay. On the end other end of the pitch the Ticos were led by captain Ruiz who pulled the strings and was ably assisted by the running of Yeltsin Tajeda and trickery and pace of Joel Campbell. Italy, England and Uruguay were made to look mediocre; Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie left flabbergasted. Tiny Costa Rica won hearts and so much more!
The other minnow high on neutrals’ love was Algeria. The African nation gave Belgium an early scare before going hammer and tongs with eventual champions Germany in an enthralling Round-of-16 match in Porto Alegre. For 90 minutes the Germans couldn’t live with the pace of Slimani and Ghoulam. What made their performance even more commendable was that few of their players had been fasting during the holy month of Ramadan which coincided with their match against De Meinshaft.
2. Restructuring the system pays off for Germany
On June 20, 2000, Germany lost to Portugal by a crushing 3-0 margin in Rotterdam in the Group Stage of the Euro 2000. Even more humiliating was the fact that the Germans had been dumped out of the tournament without a win and having scored just a single goal. This prompted a massive enquiry into football structure of the country, and a single hiccup in Euro 2004 apart, the restructuring has paid off, with Germany reaching at least the semi-finals of every subsequent major tournament and finally, to winning the 2014 World Cup, becoming the first European country to do so in Latin America.
As Gary Lineker once said, at the end of the game, the Germans win.
3. Colombia wins hearts
This World Cup has been a revelation for the Colombian football team. Never the most fancied of teams, their style of attacking play has attracted admiration from all corners. Players like Mario Yepes, Jackson Martinez, Juan Cuadrado and David Ospina have impressed all and sundry with their performances, while the standout performer of the tournament, James Rodriguez walked away with the Golden Boot award for scoring 6 goals. And despite bowing out in the quarter-finals, this team has lifted the national identity and their supporters were some of the most colourful in Brazil, getting behind their team every step of the way. It seems so long ago that Andres Escobar was shot dead for scoring an own-goal.
Also, lets not forget, their goal celebrations were awesome.
4. The Unofficial Captain
Since we are in recap mode, we’d like to quote the Diego Maradona from 2008 when he was just appointed the Argentina manager: ‘My team is Mascherano and 10 more.’ What was widely billed as Messi’s World Cup, it was his club mate who played the tournament of his lifetime. The Barcelona midfielder was almost everywhere be it starting moves from defense, snapping at someone’s heels or making match winning intervention like the one on Robben in the semis.
When not in the heat of the action, ‘El Jefecito’ was a central figure in all the team huddles, speaking passionately to his teammates after having led by example. And who will forget his now legendary line to Sergio Romero prior to the shootout against Holland, ‘Today you will become a hero!’.
5. Goalkeepers stand out
German goalie Manuel Neuer might have walked away with the Golden Glove award, but he has had to face stiff competition as the standard of ‘keeping has noticeably improved around the world. Some of the standout performances at this cup have been by ‘keepers and Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico, Keylor Navas of Costa Rica, David Ospina of Colombia and Tim Howard of USA have time and again frustrated strikers at this tournament.
While FIFA finally gave into the crescendo for proper goal-line technology, we felt it was the ‘vanishing spray’ which left its mark. The sight of referees taking a canister of spray paint and marking where the free-kicks are taken from as well drawing a sort of ‘thou shall not cross’ line for defenders was refreshing and helpful. Too many times walls disintegrate; defenders rush too soon or simply don’t maintain the required 10-yards. Players mostly towed the line – Neymar’s blatant rush against Colombia being an exception – and made this little innovation a success.