Although the usual suspects eventually triumphed, the 2014 World Cup was still a tournament full of surprises, both good and bad. Many have called it the best ever, and while we don’t know if that’s indeed true, it was one incredible month of world class football.
For those who love football — or soccer if you prefer — when the World Cup is over, after the grand finale, there is always a sense of loss. Since the biggest football festival happens only once every four years, we know it will be a long time until we see our favorite national teams and players again.
One thing we can conclude from the 2014 World Cup is that initial predictions didn’t always match what actually happened on the field. From the first days of the groups stage, several things stood out, some more surprising than others.
The first big shock came when the 2010 World Cup champions, Spain, were pummeled in their debut against the Netherlands. Of course, the Dutch were looking for revenge for their 1-0 loss in the final in South Africa, and they did just that, stunning La Furia, which never really recovered and was unceremoniously sent home after the groups stage.
Not many expected Spain to leave the 2014 World Cup in such a fashion. After all, this team had dominated football ever since winning the title in 2010. Now, there are calls for rebuilding, and a search has begun to understand the Spanish team’s disastrous failure.
The best thing about this World Cup, in this writer’s modest opinion, was the underdogs. They made the tournament fun to watch. Who can forget Colombia, led by the brilliant James Rodriguez, who at 23, beat the likes of Messi, Muller, and Robben to become the top scorer with six goals. It will be thrilling to see how this very talented young man grows as a player, and we look forward to following what he does in the years leading to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
One of the biggest surprises of this tournament was Costa Rica, the tiny Central American country representing the CONCACAF (which also included the U.S. and Mexico). Quietly, but effectively, Costa Rica finished first in a group where nobody gave them the smallest chance (this writer included), and which included three former World Cup champions; Italy, England, and Uruguay.
The poise and passion they showed under pressure was astounding, and they didn’t falter when facing the superpowers. For the first time in their history, the CONCACAF team moved into the knockout stage of the World Cup. Unfortunately, they ran into Colombia, who were also having the tournament of their lives.
Even though Germany ended up winning the 2014 World Cup, this was not the tournament of the big teams. Most of the excitement came from teams nobody expected anything from coming in. The United States provided one of the most exciting World Cups for their ever-growing fan base, and Tim Howard became an internet sensation for his record-breaking 16-saves against Belgium.
And speaking of Howard, this was also the World Cup of the goalies. We saw some exceptional men guarding their nets. Remember Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa’s acrobatics, Keylor Navas keeping Costa Rica alive, and, of course, the unusual style of Germany’s Manuel Neuer, who effectively became the 11th man on the field.
We also witnessed some less than savory images in the 2014 World Cup. Luis Suarez comes to mind, when he decided to stop Italy defender Claudio Chellini’s advance by biting him in a round of 16 match. Suarez earned a four month suspension from FIFA for his actions and was sent home, leaving Uruguay helpless.
Another black mark was the inexcusable injury on Neymar, which put a halt to the Brazilian sensation’s World Cup, and destroyed Brazil’s momentum. The culprit, Colombia’s Juan Zuniga, not only forced Neymar out of the tournament but tainted Columbia’s otherwise brilliant campaign. Surprisingly, especially after the Suarez incident, Zuniga was not even penalized on the field, much less by FIFA.
When the 2014 World Cup began, everyone was talking about Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but sadly, neither player was a major factor. Ronaldo exited quietly in the groups stage after not being able to shake tendinitis, and Messi could not lift his country, Argentina, to its third title.
That the 2014 World Cup was a big disappointment for Brazil would be the understatement of the century. Losing Neymar to injury in the quarterfinals was nothing compared to the pounding the Verde Amarela suffered at the hands of Germany. That, followed by the 3-0 defeat against the Netherlands in the third-place game, left Brazil dead and buried for all intents and purposes.
In the end, the 2014 World Cup was one fun tournament, with Cinderella teams that everyone was cheering for and dramatic moments we won’t soon forget. Congratulations to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Champions, Germany, and thank you Brazil, you were a great host.
[Image via FIFA.com and Twitter]