The 2014 FIFA World Cup ended yesterday and will never fade to oblivion. Although, there was no singularly-dominant team, until Germany obliterated Brazil in Belo Horizonte, this quadrennial incarnation of the Festival of Football hasn’t disappointed. This tournament showed that South American football isn’t in decline, England’s National Team is still not as good as most believe it should be and relative minnows Algeria, Costa Rica and the United States gave thrills and inspired millions worldwide.
The World Cup began with questions as to whether Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi will ascend to the heights once reached by Pele, Maradona, Zico, Beckenbauer and others. Turns out Cristiano was carrying niggling injuries and was handicapped by his team’s mental impotence. Messi simply carried what proved to be a team lacking offensive creativity (minus Messi’s individual brilliance) into Additional Extra Time of the Grand Finale.
South American football was one of the welcomed surprises of the 2014 World Cup. Argentina and Brazil were who most thought they were. However, Chile eliminated 2010 title holders Spain in the group stages with brute and swift counterattacking force; it left fans of La Roja bemused, bewildered and feeling bamboozled. Colombia dazzled and captivated many observers with sparkling play from James Rodríguez, Jackson Martínez, Teófilo Gutiérrez and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado as they swept their way to the quarterfinals.
England headed up the list of disappointments. As much as the Barclays Premier League is celebrated for being the best European league from top to bottom, it continues to serve as a detriment to national team success. The World Cup (and the European championships included) has become a distraction to the ballooning popularity (and riches) of the domestic league for the English Football Association (FA). Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and the golden generation that included David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville didn’t achieve anything on the international stage but garnered high praise and acclaim in club level. The typical English teenager is taught to put club before country, make money and if he is called up to the national team, the player is labeled as ‘world-class’; even though he hasn’t done anything to earn that moniker on the international stage.
Italy were eliminated because they didn’t take Costa Rica seriously and Uruguay bit (thanks to Luis Suarez) into their remaining chances. Spain after winning Euro 2008, the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012 were eliminated because their golden generation led by Iker Casillas in goal, Xavi and Andres Iniesta in midfield aged before their adoring public.
Given the fact Germany decimated Brazil 7-1 in Belo Horizonte in the semifinals and later The Netherlands scored three times against a mentally defeated and exhausted Seleção, it is right to question whether Brazil is suffering from an identity crisis. Yes, there is no Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zico, Socrates, Garrincha, Rivaldo and legendary players in this team sans Neymar. Whoever Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF) selects to replace Luiz Felipe Scolari (if he is fired) will have to quickly prep this team for the continental championship, Copa America, next summer in Chile.
Algeria, Costa Rica and the United States weren’t predicted to do much in the 2014 World Cup by many observers. But these three teams have what cannot be quantified by Alexi Lalas’s Soccer Power Index or Sabremetrics: unrelenting spirit and tactical awareness. All three countries gave their supporters much to celebrate because they reached the knockout rounds and made it difficult for their opponents.
Germany entered the World Cup with only one question: can their back line hold up against speedy opposition? Their midfield was the best in the world with Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Götze Toni Kroos and Mesut Özil. Lucas Podolski and Miroslav Klose were the goal poaching forwards that weren’t really counted on by coach Joachim Löw because he employed Thomas Müller as a false nine. As the tournament progressed, Germany wasn’t dominant by most accounts. They beat Portugal 4-0 but their opponents capitulated. It wasn’t until they beat the hosts Brazil in Belo Horizonte by a staggering score 7-1 that everyone took notice. This team was actually really good. Captain Philipp Lahm marshaled that back line as it became the immovable object and suddenly Jérôme Boateng was indispensable as his last-ditch defending saved Die National Mannschaft several times in the final against Argentina. Germany wasn’t dominant for most of the World Cup. They were dominant when they had to be.
The 2014 World Cup served up shocks, surprises and amazing scenes of jubilation. From the fan fests on Copacabana Beach to the fan parties around the world, this was indeed a Festival of Football. People spent tens of thousands of dollars and traveled from far and wide to take part this year. Brazil was up for it because by most accounts the infrastructure withstood the test, the transportation was smooth (sans traffic jams and flooding in Manaus), there were no riots and the natives were hospitable. The culture of Brazil was on display as much as the football. Everyone wins!