World Cup highlights: the best and the worst of Brazil 2014
The best player, the best game and the most memorable moments from a month of football
As Germany fly back to Europe with the World Cup in their hand luggage the dust is settling on a memorable World Cup that saw champions deposed, reputations destroyed, stars born and most of all plenty of thrilling football.
Here are The Week's end of tournament awards:
James Rodriguez may have won most of the awards in this category thanks to his screamer against Uruguay, but in terms of iconic imagery Robin van Persie's diving header against Spain cannot be trumped. The sight of the Dutch centre forward sailing through the air to connect with Daley Blind's cross became the defining image of the early weeks of the tournament and will be forever associated with Brazil 2014. Not only was the goal spectacular, it also marked the start of Spain's fall from grace. The reigning champions were winning 1-0 against Holland when Van Persie grabbed the equaliser. The game ended 5-1 to the Netherlands.
Miguel Higuain's failure to hit the target when through on goal for Argentina in the final registers pretty high on the list, as does Swiss striker Josep Drmic's lame finish against Argentina in the round of 16, but the award goes to Sergio Busquets of Spain. With his side 2-0 down to Chile and facing oblivion the ball fell to him in the six-yard box. But instead of burying the chance the ball screwed off his ankle and went wide, leaving his international goal tally at zero.
There were plenty of contenders in this category. Holland's demolition of Spain was extraordinary, Brazil's 1-1 draw with Chile was thrilling as was the USA's encounter with Belgium. Then there was the game that produced the most remarkable scoreline in World Cup history: Brazil 1 Germany 7. But it is another Germany game that gets the nod as match of the tournament, die Mannschaft's 2-2 draw with Ghana in the group stage. It was an open end-to-end game that either side could have won and which featured moments of high class football as well as some elementary errors, which only added to the drama. And it took place on a Saturday night.
Thankfully not too many entries for this award, although the grim games became more frequent as the tournament progressed. Argentina could be nominated for any of their knockout games against Switzerland, Belgium and then Holland. England's game against Costa Rica could also be considered as could any of Russia's matches. But the award goes to the dire goalless draw between Japan and Greece in the group stages. That it kicked off straight after England's defeat to Uruguay didn't help, but the only notable thing about the match was that the BBC offered viewers the chance to watch the game on a 'tactical cam' behind the goal. Not even watching the four banks of four moving backwards and forwards made it any more interesting.
Most memorable moment:
Robin van Pesie's header has already got a mention, and Luis Saurez’s bite is yet to come, but those incidents pale into insignificance compared to Germany's incredible semi-final against Brazil. In the space of 400 seconds in the first half the Germans filleted Brazil, scoring four goals and humiliating the hosts at their own party. The 7-1 scoreline will go down in football history as the most incredible ever. If the tournament is remembered for one thing, it will be that game. It will be talked about for generations and it has to go down as a genuine 'where were you' moment for any football fan.
Lionel Messi may have been awarded the official player of the tournament award, but he, like Neymar, was only influential in spells. The player who caught the eye and did the most to bolster his reputation was Colombia's James Rodriguez. His six goals earned him the golden boot award and he has now been elevated to superstar status. Several goalkeepers could make a case, but more of that later.
Most over-rated player:
Chelsea must still be chuckling after persuading Paris Saint-Germain to pay almost £50m for the services of David Luiz, only for the defender to completely lose his marbles in Brazil. When he wasn't weeping, praying or charging around like a wild-eyed bezerker Luiz wasn't doing much in the way of defending. His free-kick against Colombia was impressive, his display against Germany in the semi-final was anything but. Wayne Rooney, as ever, deserves a mention in this category, along with his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo. Neither of them made an impact as they exited at the group stage.
Brazil 2014 should be remembered for the quality of the goalkeeping on display and there were some phenomenal performances between the sticks. Guillermo Ochoa produced heroics against Brazil, Keylor Navas was like a wall for Costa Rica against Greece, and who could forget Tim Howard's record-breaking performance as he kept Belgium at bay with 15 saves? And it was the American who produced the stop of the tournament for the US against Portugal. He somehow recovered from being beaten by a shot that came back off the post to get into position for the rebound before pulling off an amazing reaction stop to deny Eder.
Given the quality of goalkeeping on display it seems unfair not to pick a number one number one. Ochoa and Howard are in the mix, along with Algeria's Rais M'Bolhi and Claudio Bravo of Chile. Manuel Neuer won the golden glove after a series of dominant performances for Germany, but for non-stop heroics The Week award goes to Keylar Navas of Costa Rica who starred in the penalty shoot-out win over Greece and made some key interventions in the group stages. Without him the team that was supposed to be the whipping boys of Group D could well have been just that.
Iker Casillas has a couple of nominations after gifting a goal to Holland when he miscontrolled a back pass, and punching the ball straight to Charles Aranguiz agaist Chile. David Luiz might not play in goal but his defensive efforts against Germany and Holland earn him a nod, with his header straight to Daley Blind in the third place play off a particular highlight. But in terms of catastrophic mistakes Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev's error against South Korea takes the biscuit. Lee Keun-ho's tame effort came at him at head height, but he let it slip through his fingers and into the net.
Alex Song's insane off-the-ball elbow on Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic for Cameroon was bizarre, as was the fight between team-mates Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Benjamin Moukandjo in the same game. Claims of match-rigging involving the African nations only added to the intrigue. Ghana's implosion, with reports of a punch-up between Sulley Muntari and a member of the Ghana FA after $3m in cash was flown to Brazil, was dispiriting. But the winner has to be Luis Suarez's bite on Giorgio Chiellini. We will probably never know what Suarez was thinking, but days after showing his genius against England the Uruguayan turned himself into a pariah... again.
Colombia and Belgium got more press as dark horses before the tournament but Chile provided some of the best football on display in Brazil. After beating Spain they had the misfortune of being runners up in Group B after losing their final group match to Holland, despite having more than 60 per cent of the possession. That meant taking on Brazil in the last 16, which was always going to be a tall order. But Chile gave as good as they got and came within a whisker of beating the hosts when Mauricio Pinilla hit the bar in extra time – the player even got a tattoo of the incident.
Most improved team:
Brazil 2014 may go down as the tournament at which the USA finally got the hang of 'soccer'. Algeria also delighted their fans as they made it into the knockout stages, 32 years after they were robbed by Germany and Austria. Colombia also impressed, and how much further would they have gone if Radamel Falcao had been fit? However the fairytale team was undoubtedly Costa Rica. Los Ticos were cast as the whipping boys of Group D, but instead they beat Uruguay and Italy and drew with England to win the group. A win over Greece only added to the romance, and they then went the distance against Holland. They were expected to play three and lose three, but in the end played five and lost none (in normal time). No wonder they were afforded a heroes' welcome when they returned home.
Least impressive team:
Spain were dire, but at least watching them implode had an element of drama about it. England were also underwhelming, but produced a few exciting moments. Cameroon and South Korea were also disappointing, Greece hardly set the world alight but the least watchable side at Brazil 2014 was surely Russia, who cemented Fabio Capello's reputation as an over-rated (and overpaid) coach.
Bald-headed Jorge Sampaoli of Chile cut a menacing but suave dash on the touchline. Louis van Gaal looked like he knew what he was doing (particularly when he brought on Tim Krul for the Costa Rica shoot-out). Vincent del Bosque and Luiz Felipe Scolari looked old and confused at various times in the tournament, but the manager who was most watchable was Miguel Herrera of Mexico, the least well-paid coach at the tournament. He kicked every ball, berated every official and lived every moment and could not have looked more Mexican if he had tried.
A shoot-out between Spain and Brazil, although England and Italy deserve a mention. Defending champions Spain arrived in Brazil claiming that reports of their demise had been greatly exaggerated. It turned out they had been greatly underestimated. They were dire and directionless in their group games and their early exit surely means a change of approach. As for Brazil, they flattered to deceive, but the moment they lost Neymar and Thiago Silva the limitations of Fred and David Luiz were exposed. They failed to win convincingly all tournament, even the Cameroon game was shaky, and the manner of their exit was extraordinary. For failing so spectacularly in front of their own fans they take the crown. ·