The Best Moments of the 2014 World Cup
It was always going to be difficult to justify the World Cup being staged in a country where the money would have been better utilised on vital improvements to its woefully insufficient infrastructure. So, now that the ticker tape has been cleared away and Germany have returned home victorious, can Brazil 2014 at least be considered a sporting success? Well, there can be no doubt that, for football enthusiasts and casual observers alike, it was certainly more enjoyable than South Africa 2010. But then, we’ve all had stomach viruses that were more enjoyable than South Africa 2010.
Better than its predecessor then, but can Brazil 2014 go so far as to claim to be the best of all time? Let’s look at the evidence. It had an excitingly high goals-to-games ratio in the group stages, tense knockout rounds and the emergence of new superstars. So far, so good. Ultimately though, a World Cup can be judged on whether there were enough of those vivid moments that live in the memory for years to come. The ones that prompt inadvertent yelps of delight in the direction of the television. Here are a few…
Timmy, Rodriguez and That Header
A World Cup isn’t a World Cup unless it delivers beautiful goals. And in Brazil there were a plethora. None more so than that thunderbastard of a volley from Australia’s Tim Cahill against the Netherlands. The Socceroos departed the tournament with their heads held high thanks to a combination of hard work, impressive organisation and that stunning goal from their talisman. Merely a few seconds after his side had fallen behind to the Dutch, a ball was hoisted into the box, where the veteran watched it drop over his shoulder, timed his connection to perfection and sparked wild, early morning celebrations back home.
Similarly, Colombia’s James Rodríguez produced a screamer against Uruguay, along with a mesmerising run and divine chip in his side’s tussle with Japan. Perhaps best of all though was Robin Van Persie’s header against Spain, simply because it was the type of goal that has never really been seen before. While most strikers would have taken the ball on their chest, the Manchester United player leapt like the proverbial salmon to loop an incredible header into the top corner. The Netherlands went on to beat World Champions Spain 5-1 and the Royal Dutch Mint celebrated by producing 6000 coins with the image of the Manchester United striker flinging himself through the air.
Threading the Eye of a Needle
As every football aficionado knows though, goals account for only a small percentage of the game’s appeal. Sometimes a simple moment of skill in the midfield can be as aesthetically pleasing. Take, for instance, Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi. During his team’s quarter-final showdown with Belgium, the wily Argentine genius pulled from his sizable box of tricks a flabbergasting 40-yard pass into the path of Angel Di Maria. It wasn’t so much threading the eye of a needle as threading a Size 5 football through the eye of 100 needles.
Not to be outdone, Messi’s rival for world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, wowed fans with a mazy dribble in Portugal’s game against the United States, his legs a blur as he danced this way and that. However, it soon became apparent that the slippery-haired wizard’s teammates were nowhere near his high standards. He described them as “an average team” as they crashed out in the group stages and, often, it looked like Ronaldo was surrounded by ten competition winners.
A Krul Ending
Cameo of the World Cup belongs to a man who experienced just a few seconds of matchplay. Tim Krul made his tournament debut in the 119th minute of the Netherlands’ quarter-final against Costa Rica. At the denouement of a woeful 0-0 draw, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal made the surprising decision to take off goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen and replace him with the Newcastle United stopper for the penalty shootout. Krul saved two of the spot-kicks, sent his side into the semi-final and didn’t play again in the tournament. A bold tactical move from van Gaal, who started in his role as Manchester United boss this week.
Smells Like Team Spirit
Elsewhere though, managers were certainly not focusing their attention on individuals. There were some superb team performances on display. The most obvious of which was Germany’s dismantling of Brazil in the semi-final. The host nation, without poster-boy Neymar, captain Thiago Silva and seemingly any idea of how to play football, were destroyed 7-1. While much of the post-match analysis focused on the shambolic Brazilian display, the Germans were simply magnificent. To use a fairly awful Fargo analogy – Germany were as cold, calm and calculating as Lorne Malvo. Chilling stuff.
Murka finds a fuck to give
It’s rare, in international football, to see a team playing in the German fashion – with the organisation and unity of a club side. Because of the limited time spent together on the training ground, it is often a case of putting your eleven best players on the pitch and hoping they come good. However, like Germany, there was another team that played with the togetherness and impressive organisation of a domestic side. That team, surprisingly, was the USA. Bereft of superstars, they were focused, humble, hard-working and incredibly likeable as they battled their way out of the apparent “Group of Death.” The abiding memory of Team USA from this tournament was when John Brooks headed a late winner against Ghana. His reaction – running around, hands on head, utterly aghast – ignited an unprecedented passion for “soccer” in the US.
Let’s face it, choreographed goal celebrations are usually terrible. Study Peter Crouch’s robot for proof that footballers should stick to playing football rather than attempting dance routines. The exception to this rule is Colombia, who lit up the World Cup with their sweet, sweet moves. Their Thiller-style zombie walk after scoring against Japan was fun and their hip-shaking boogie after netting against the Ivory Coast was perhaps the most joyous pieces of disco brilliance ever to grace a pitch. Let’s see Barnsley replicate that on a wet Wednesday January night in Yorkshire.
But it wasn’t just the strikers having all the fun. Ghana goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda decided to throw a Party For One against Portugal. And not when his team scored either, but after he’d pulled off a point-blank save to deny Ronaldo the opening goal. Having kept the ball out, he punched the air with all the joy of someone who had just discovered one of their eggs was a double-yoker.
The Hitchhiking Bug
However, for all the tactics, the great goals and the late drama, it was the incidental moments – the asides – that made this fiesta of football such a spectacle. Like when a giant Brazilian bug landed on James Rodriguez’s arm (pictured, top) during the vital match against Brazil. Just after he had netted a penalty, a terrifying green beast attached itself to his sleeve. Was it a locust? A huge grasshopper? Some kind of alien from your worst nightmare? Whatever it was, it got closer to the playmaker than most defenders did in the tournament.
Another non-footballing highlight was the passion with which the South American players belted out their national anthems. This was in stark contrast to a team like England, whose players mustered up the same level of enthusiasm as a bunch of teenage boys being forced to sing hymns in assembly. Their performances on the pitch were little better.
Like these fun distractions, another of the highlights of the tournament occurred away from the throes of battle. In the intense pressure of a World Cup, mid-match moments of levity are rare, so it was touching to see the interaction between Nigeria goalkeeper Victor Enyeama and the referee at half-time of their game against Argentina. Enyeama jokingly accused the officials of awarding Lionel Messi too many free-kicks, one of which had been duly dispatched into the top corner. “The guy is so good… and I’m shit,” he said. To which the referee responded, rather sweetly, that only good players get to play in the World Cup.
Good old Greece
With all these colourful memories still fresh, it is perhaps surprising that the most life-affirming moment of the World Cup revolved around money. Cold, hard cash had been a hot topic for months, of course, with protests around Brazil and with African nations embroiled in arguments about their win bonuses. Cameroon arrived a day late due to a dispute about their win bonuses. They went on to lose all three games and are accused of as yet unproven match-fixing allegations. On a similarly vulgar level, the Ghanaian FA had to charter a plane to Brazil with $3m in cash to give to their players in order for them to fulfil their fixtures. So it was wonderful to learn that not every footballer at the tournament was a mercenary. The Greek squad rejected their World Cup bonuses and instead asked for the money to be used to build a new training centre for the team. “We do not want extra bonus, or money. We only play for Greece and its people,” the players said and, in doing so, somewhat restored our faith in a game that, at times, feels rotten and corrupt from tip to toe.
So, in hindsight, these highlights suggest that Brazil 2014 was definitely good enough to be remembered as one of the very best of all time. And that’s without even taking into account that crazy moment when a Uruguayan chewed a chunk out of an Italian’s shoulder.
Words by Bobby Townsend