32 teams competed in the tournament in Brazil, and between them scored 171 goals – the joint-highest with France 1998 – as well as providing thrills, spills, talking points.
In the end, it will be Germany who will look back on the 2014 World Cup fondest of all, after they beat Argentina in the final to win the World Cup – their fourth World Cup trophy, their first since 1990, and the first European team to win a World Cup trophy in South America.
Mario Gotze’s goal in extra time also means European sides have won three World Cup titles in a row, after Spain won in South Africa in 2010 and Italy triumphed in Berlin in 2006.
There will be plenty of talking points on what will go down as one of the finest ever World Cup tournaments, and here are some things to remember.
1. The best team won the whole thing
In the end, the stats do not lie. Germany had the World Cup’s best goalkeeper, a very handy midfield and an attack that was always full of goals, as Brazil and Portugal can testify. The options they had certainly had opponents worrying – so much so that the likes of Julien Draxler and Lukas Podolski could be left out despite their talents. Top of the tree was Thomas Muller, who was second only to Colombian star James Rodriguez in goals scored. Miroslav Klose also set a new all-time World Cup goalscorer record, while the likes of Toni Kroos, Andre Schurlle and – of course – the final scorer Mario Gotze proved potent and dangerous throughout. In the end, they were worthy winners, and the challenge of national coach Joachim Low is to prepare a squad to triumph in the European Championships in two years time. Once he’s done celebrating this, of course.
2. The final four were only good in fits and starts
Yes, Germany were the best team, but they didn’t have it all their own way. They almost lost to Ghana, struggled against the USA (although they struggled with the hideously rainy conditions), and got away with their defence having a collective off-day against Algeria. It took the steely resolve that shut out France to give Germany the stride towards victory. The other final four also had issues throughout. Runners-up Argentina were widely predicted to have a swashbuckling attack and woeful defence, and duly delivered the opposite (impressive defence, but poor attack), while the Netherlands never really hit the heights of their demolition of Spain and needed an injury time turnaround against Mexico and the surprise intervention of Tim Krul to reach the final four. Brazil had a frustrating tournament, embodied by the brutal hacking of Colombia that saw neutrals desert them and cost them their two best players before that once-in-a-lifetime mauling Germany gave.
3. Some big names didn’t turn up
Before the World Cup, the likes of Spain, Italy and Portugal were talked of as among the favourites, but all three turned out stinkers in this tournament. Spain in particular were disappointing, with the 2010 World Cup winners never really recovering from the pummeling the Netherlands handed them in the opening game. But Portugal were also dreadful and left it too late to attempt Round of 16 qualification, while Italy fizzled out after beating England in their opener. Of course, England were little better, considering they posted their worst ever World Cup tournament, although nobody expected them to win. A number of other highly hyped names were also poor. Dark horses Belgium rarely providing quality despite their first defeat being to the Argentines in the Quarters, while 1930 and 1950 winners Uruguay only looked capable when Luis Suarez was playing – they were awful without him while he was injured against Costa Rica, and were worse after he was banned for his latest bite.
4. This has been a rough tournament for Asia
Twelve years ago, South Korea made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup. Granted, the inept referees helped them see off Italy and Spain in a tournament they hosted, but a final four place for them was still a great achievement. Since then, Asian football has hit a brick wall, with no Asian teams making it out of the group stages in 2006, only one team made it out the groups in 2010 (and they – Japan – went out on penalties), and then back to none in 2014. Some had more pride than others – Iran were unlucky to lose to a late Lionel Messi goal, while Australia (who were re-assigned from Oceania to Asia in the late-2000’s) can at least say a group with Spain, Netherlands and Chile was never going to work. By contrast, Japan and South Korea were dire and both managers resigned after their exits. A lot of work is clearly needed if an improved showing is to be displayed at the 2018 tournament.
5. Africa’s tournament was little better
Algeria and Nigeria did at least get to the Round of 16 and gave a good go, with the former creating chances against Germany and taking them to extra time, while the latter gave dark horses France a decent game before tiring in the last ten minutes. But this was overshadowed by horrible tournaments for Cameroon and Ghana. Both had strike action over money, while Cameroon’s self-destruction against Croatia was so total that it was mistaken for match-fixing by German newspapers. Ghana’s disintegration was even more unedifying, and also gutting considering they won many admirers in their run to the Quarter Final in 2010. It was also a heartbreaking end to the Ivory Coast’s tournament, after they were sunk by a last minute Greek penalty. But like Asia, Africa’s tournament is not one they will look back on fondly, and Pele’s prediction there would be an African World Cup winner before 2000 continues to look foolish.
6. The best player did not win the Golden Ball
The adidas Golden Ball is usually given to the best player in the tournament, and had that been so, we would be congratulating either Thomas Muller or James Rodriguez on a deserved prize. They were the tournament’s two best players, and in a way, its a shame we didn’t get to see a Germany v Colombia semi because they would have essentially been battling for supremacy. There is no denying Lionel Messi had a good tournament – he scored brilliant strikes against Bosnia and Iran, laid on the key assist against Switzerland and was the key man in an Argentina side largely poor in attack. But he wasn’t the best player, and sort of stopped after the Round of 16 affair with the Swiss. He was anonymous in the semi-final, barring his penalty shoot-out strike, and did little in the final, and his face even seemed to indicate, “Why have I got this trophy?” when presented with it after the final.
7. The political ramifications will live on in Brazil
Before the tournament, many were concerned at the chance of protests. The previous year’s Confederations Cup was dominated by hefty and angry protest against the cost of both this and the 2016 Olympics, which will be in Rio and preparations for which are “significantly behind schedule”. The tournament itself has gone down as a triumph – people who visited Brazil enjoyed themselves and were very complimentary of the locals and the stadiums, while it helped the games were so good. But there will still be political arguing long after the last fans have left. Brazil spent billions of public money on this tournament, for the reward of 4th place when they expected to avenge defeat in the 1950 final, and many are still annoyed money has been sunk on such sporting events instead of helping Brazil’s income inequality and poor public infrastructure. With an election in October, political opponents to President Dilma Roussef will be looking to use this event as ammunition, and it will still be discussed in these tones long into the future.
8. 2014 could be football’s breakthrough year in the USA
Before starting a satirical piece that tore into the “comically grotesque” FIFA a few days before the opening game, comedian John Oliver said that “In America, soccer is something you pick your 10 year old daughter up from”. But soccer, as the USA insists on calling it, captured the American public’s imagination. Record numbers watched games during the tournament, while a record number of Tweets – even on non-US games – were filed. The American imagination was also captured by goalkeeper Tim Howard’s man-of-the-match performance against Belgium, and by Luis Suarez and his baffling biting antics, while right-wing journalists/scaremongers like Ann Coulter filed comically misinformed pieces on how soccer was a “socialist plot to destroy America”. In short, some 20 years after hosting it, ‘soccer’ seems to have its taken root in the US sport psyche as something that is openly discussed and maybe now, they might fancy the challenge of developing a team to win it.
In any case, that was all and personally, I, like many other football fans across the world, will remember the 2014 World Cup as being an exciting sporting event full of goals, drama, outstandingly bizarre moments, the odd act of cannibalism and political protest against FIFA. It was nevertheless an entertaining ride, and one hopes the teams will provide more moments when the next World Cup kicks off on June 8th 2018 in Russia.