Soccer

Jack: A historical reflection of the 2014 World Cup

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Kristian Jack
7/13/2014 6:34:16 PM
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You never forget your first. It is what you judge all others against. It may not have been the best World Cup but it was yours. Your own personal experience with the greatest sporting event the world can offer you.

A World Cup stays with you. As time drifts away from each one the immediacies of every day life tend to fade some of the memories away and recent tournaments, unless it was your first, have simply not matched up to the emotions your first romance with the World Cup generated.

World Cups of recent memory have all been special in their own way, bringing together a carnival of the sport for a month, but they left many of us wanting more; giving us far too few moments of real greatness.

And then there was this one. If it was your first, you have no idea how fortunate you are.

The 2014 version returned to the home of the Carnival. It arrived in Brazil desperate to be a good World Cup again. It departs as a truly fantastic World Cup.

Brazil 2014 laughed in the face of hyperbole. While World Cups of recent memory needed false statements of grander to gain attention, this one allowed for the use of exaggeration and, in some aspects, desperately needed it to convey just how important the evidence on show was.

As your first World Cup showed, how we all experience this tournament is truly a personal adventure, but no World Cup in recent memory will have been enjoyed by so many people.

There is a good chance it was the greatest ever; featuring the most remarkable result in the 84-year history of the tournament.

Group Stage

Day two. Game three. Almost half-time. The run. The pass. Oh the pass. To understand why Andres Iniesta arrived home in Spain on Day 13 of the World Cup, when half of the teams hadn't even completed their group games, we must go back to the pass. The midfield mastermind didn't look, he didn't need to.

It was close to 445pm local time in Salvador when the Barcelona man slipped countryman David Silva through with one of the passes of the tournament.

Spain, in complete control of their first match and already ahead by a goal, were about to double their lead. Except that's not what happened. Silva couldn't score and within a minute one of the greatest World Cup goals you'll ever see took place, as Robin Van Persie became the new flying Dutchman, heading brilliantly over Iker Casillas.

Suddenly a very thick, direct line between the last World Cup and this one could no longer be drawn. Spain never recovered and became the third World Champion in the last four World Cups to leave after their group games ended.

(The Canadian Press)

The tone was set. Games changed drastically in second halves, there were goals galore, many of them scored by headers, often caused by counter-attacks, and when the dust settled, with half of the teams eliminated, over a fabulous 21-day period, we had witnessed the greatest World Cup group stage ever.

It was a World Cup where the minnows of Costa Rica won a group featuring three former World Champions, where previously dysfunctional teams like Mexico and France excelled and Europe's major players like Italy, England, Portugal and Russia joined Spain on a flight home.

It was a group stage of surprises, where tactically versatile and organized sides shocked the so-called super powers of the game.

A group stage that saw the renaissance of 3-5-2, used so well by surprise teams like Netherlands, Costa Rica and Mexico.

A group stage of headers, with 27 more following Van Persie's belter from another brilliant pass, this time by the best left back in the tournament, Daley Blind.

(The Canadian Press)

A group stage of comebacks. Spain, massacred by the Dutch 5-1 in the third game of the tournament, was already the second team, after Croatia a day earlier, to lose a game they led. A small, exclusive group of only four from 2010 was dwarfed as Uruguay, Japan, Ecuador, Algeria and Australia joined them in the first week.

During their second group games Germany, Ghana, Portugal and USA all managed to not win games against each other that they led in.

The reigning world player of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo, didn't have much of a say on this World Cup, due to injuries and ineffective team-mates, but he did produce a pass, as good as Iniesta and Blind, that landed on the head of Silvestre Varela in the final seconds of their dramatic game against the United States. It was just another moment at this World Cup you wanted to watch on repeat with Avicii on in the background.

Brazil 2014 was a party that was alive and kicking, exhilarating, heartbreaking and magnificent every single day.

Even Uruguay, Greece and Algeria had comebacks of their own, all qualifying for the last 16 despite losing their opening World Cup match. Only Spain did that in 2010.

Any mention of Uruguay, of course, brings back memories of another biting incident by Luis Suarez, with this time Italy's Giorgio Chiellini becoming his victim. That FIFA acted swiftly to ban him should be commended.

That Uruguay's captain and manager backed him and used it as a rallying cry against English speaking journalists was a real pity. That we had a World Cup of many terrific moments is a relief. Yes, it will always be apart of what happened at this World Cup, but anyone who thinks of this World Cup and thinks of the bite first is, likely, not as big of a fan of the sport than they think they are.

(The Canadian Press)

It became the group stage of counter-attacks, once again ignited by the Dutch over Spain as they scored their last three goals with a combined 29 seconds in possession, and never more highlighted than when Switzerland broke away in the final seconds to score a dramatic, crucial winner over Ecuador.

It became the group stage of creative, left-footed masters like Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben and the sensational James Rodriguez who all glided across the field into space left open by a transition and produced some wonderful moments.

It was the group stage of substitute goals, 24 in total, highlighted by Miroslav Klose joining the great Ronaldo on 15 World Cup goals and, of course, James Rodriguez dancing his way through the Japanese defence for one of the goals of the tournament.

In the end, though, it was the group stage of goals as an incredible 136 went in. Just nine fewer than the entire 2010 tournament combined.

Group Winners – Brazil, Netherlands, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Argentina, Germany, Belgium

For the third time in the last four World Cups, three teams that were not seeded won groups. For the second successive World Cup, the only seed that didn't progress through to the next stage was the previous winners (Spain 2014, Italy 2010).

Runners-up: Mexico, Chile, Greece, Uruguay, Switzerland, Nigeria, USA, Algeria.

Teams eliminated in the group stage in reverse order based on performance in Brazil -

32. Honduras
31. Cameroon
30. Japan
29. South Korea
28. England
27. Iran
26. Bosnia & Herzegovina
25. Russia
24. Portugal
23. Australia
22. Spain
21. Croatia
20. Ivory Coast
19. Italy
18. Ghana
17. Ecuador

Best XI from teams eliminated in group stage

Alexander Dominguez (ECU); Serge Aurier (IC) Andrea Barzagli (ITA), Walter Ayovi (ECU); Gervinho (IC) Muhamed Besic (BHZ) Christian Noboa (ECU) Luka Modric (CRO) Ivan Perisic (CRO); Tim Cahill (AUS) Enner Valencia (ECU)

An expected wind of caution blew around Brazil as it entered its third week. It began with a party in Belo Horizonte between the hosts and Chile but by the second half of that match the tense nation had been drowned in nerves. They weren't the only ones.

Colombia's brilliant dismantling of a poor Uruguay, featuring a gorgeous goal from James, aside, every game of the first knockout stage was close and gripping.

Brazil and Costa Rica narrowly got through on penalties, Louis Van Gaal's comeback kings did it again, this time scoring twice after the 88th minute to knock Mexico out, while France, Argentina and Germany all narrowly got past terrific displays by Nigeria, Switzerland and Algeria respectively. And so it was down to Belgium to try and ensure all eight group winners made it to the last eight for the first time. Salvador, the site of so many other superb matches, delivered once again with one of the finest extra time periods you'll ever wish to see.

The Americans, outplayed for much of the contest, were never beaten until the final whistle brought the curtain down on a pulsating act and history was made.

Teams eliminated in the last 16 in reverse order based on performance in Brazil

16. Uruguay
15. Greece
14. USA
13. Switzerland
12. Algeria
11. Nigeria
10. Mexico
9. Chile

Best XI from teams eliminated in last 16

Guillermo Ochoa (MEX); Fabian Johnson (USA) Kostas Manolas (GRE) Rafa Marquez (MEX) Ricardo Rodriguez (SUI); Ahmed Musa (NIG) Charles Aranguiz (CHI) Jose Vazquez (MEX) Hector Herrera (MEX); Xherdan Shaqiri (SUI) Alexis Sanchez (CHI).

The danger of a knock-out tournament is that teams, undeservedly, can go further than they should. This spectacular World Cup had no time for that either in Brazil. All four of the quarter-finals, played over two gripping days across the country, were all close but not one of the teams that went home should have felt any form of injustice.

France, and their coach Didier Deschamps, had discovered a new identity as winners in Brazil, a likeable team that people back home could relate to but in the end, much like against Spain in Euro 2012, they were no match for a superior passing side as Germany eliminated them with another headed goal.

Costa Rica defended brilliantly but were the second best team in the penalty shootout loss to Netherlands while Belgium were extremely ordinary against an ordinary Argentina who finally got someone other than Lionel Messi to step up in a big moment when Gonzalo Higuain, reacting on instinct, sent his team into the semi's for the first time since 1990.

The round, though, will be remembered for Brazil's win over Colombia. Two goals from set-pieces were just about enough to get the hosts through and although James scored his tournament leading sixth goal it wasn't enough for Jose Pekerman's side.

Brazil were average again but their South American foes hadn't started playing until the last 15 minutes in what was a brutally physically match where the referee forgot about his duty to protect the players.

Neymar was the biggest casualty from the match, breaking a vertebrae in his back, but anyone who blamed the referee should have also been targeting Fernandinho and his own manager as they clearly played an enormous part in making it such a battle.

(The Canadian Press)

Teams eliminated in the quarter finals in reverse order based on performance in Brazil

8. Belgium
7. Costa Rica
6. France
5. Colombia

Best XI from teams eliminated in QF:

Keylor Navas (CR); Cristian Gamboa (CR) Mario Yepes (COL) Raphael Varane (FRA) Giancarlo Gonzalez (CR); Juan Cuadrado (COL) Paul Pogba (FRA) Blaise Matuidi (FRA) James Rodriguez (CR); Bryan Ruiz (CR) Karim Benzema (FRA).

As the tournament entered its final week all eyes remained on the so-called dream final. Argentina and Brazil, on opposite sides of the draw, had reached the last four together for the first time ever. A possible all South American final inside the Maracana still existed as the semi-finals kicked off. Twenty-five minutes later that dream was crushed. There he stood, wiping away the tears from beneath his glasses. A boy in a Brazil shirt, not old enough to have remembered any of the reasons for the five stars above the crest. When goal number four went in, the third in three minutes, it all became too much. He sobbed. He wasn't the only one.

A nation that had drowned themselves in sorrow and self-pity since the Neymar injury were watching their national team get annihilated in a game they thought belonged to them.

Germany's 7-1 demolition of Brazil was the most remarkable result in World Cup history.  Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, record breaker Klose and others were remarkably ruthless, and it was a clear sign that Germany had learned and become confident, from four years earlier, to press high and create transitions in the opposition's half. Nevertheless, this was a game where the hosts capitulated in Belo Horizonte.

It began with David Luiz and Julio Cesar holding up the jersey of their injured striker Neymar as if he was dying. What a pity that was the strongest bit of emotion we saw from Brazil the entire game.
Instead of FIFA recognizing the life of the wonderful Alfredo Di Stefano, who had died hours earlier, or the lives of two people who died from a bridge collapsing nearby, the Brazilian public got what they wanted.

Luiz Felipe Scolari allowed the irrational emotions of the public to enter the dressing room and the result was Brazil were not mentally prepared to play a monumental match in front of their own people. Once they trailed in the game, they were finished. It was a massive missed opportunity and a striking example of how not to prepare for a tournament.

Brazil would be best advised to read how New Zealand's All Blacks ran through scenarios ahead of time if they lost their key number ten, Dan Carter, in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. When it happened, they were ready to withstand adversity. Brazil, like the bridge, tragically collapsed and it was without doubt one of the most astonishing games in the history of the sport, let alone the World Cup.

Argentina completed their end of the bargain, progressing through a penalty shootout against the Dutch after a desperately drab affair in Sao Paolo.

Semi-finalists placed in order of 3rd/4th place playoff
4. Brazil
3. Netherlands.

FINAL

It was a spectacular final. Like all great sides, Germany again rose above the challenges and were worthy world champions. This time the challenges came thick and fast.

Sami Khedira hurt in the warm up, Christophe Kramer, his replacement, taken off inside 30 minutes with a head injury, their left side exploited, Toni Kroos handing Gonzalo Higuain a golden moment to score and yet Germany were able to walk off at half-time still at 0-0.

They went on to dominate the second half, playing their own way, with centre-backs Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng having standout performances, stepping up and getting tight on Lionel Messi when needed.

Argentina got deeper as the game wore on but continued to defend brilliantly as a unit.

Mesut Ozil, playing centrally, led the press, not close to as effectively as Toni Kroos has in the past but Ozil was far better than in any other game. Argentina were also much better than in past matches.
Yet, it still remained 0-0.

Germany were in control, led by the magnificent Bastian Schweinsteiger who was the best player on the pitch. All that lacked for Germany was an end product.

Miroslav Klose had to play longer than needed, but when Mario Gotze came on the attacks were crisper.

Still Argentina defended deep but, with just seven minutes away from penalties, Andre Schurrle dribbled the ball, Gotze made a run and the two substitutions combined to put Germany ahead.

Fittingly, in a World Cup where 32 subs scored goals, the 171st and final goal of the World Cup went to a sub. Germany had done it. They were the deserved winners.

Argentina's players, many in tears, stood and watched as the brilliant Philipp Lahm lifted the World Cup but as you looked at them there was only Javier Mascherano who truly played well enough to say he deserved to be a champion.

The debate will rage on and on comparing Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona, of course. What a pity. It was not a game, or a team, that got the best out of Messi, who clearly is not at the level he was at two years ago for Barcelona.

In truth, he may never reach such an incredible high again but it is a real shame that this generation cannot appreciate watching him in a World Cup final, one Argentina wouldn't have been in without him, without comparing him to a player who played a sport that was vastly different to the one we watch today.

Golden Boot Winner & Golden Ball Winner

Lionel Messi won the official Golden Ball but James Rodriguez was the true champion. FIFA continues to get that decision wrong and we shouldn't overly obsess about their incompetence over an individual award in a team sport.

(The Canadian Press)

James Rodriguez. The only player in the tournament to score goals with his left foot, right foot and head, the man known as 'Hamiss' should never be called 'Jayms' ever again. The loss of Radamel Falcao was supposed to be a big one for Colombia but it allowed them to play with one striker, which gave the Monaco magician more of a central role to star.

His World Cup was only five minutes old when he produced a stunning ball to Cuadrado from a deep-lying playmaker role. He followed it up with a run and dummy that allowed Pablo Armero to score.

His corner led to goal number two against Greece and he scored the third. In game two he scored a brilliant header against Ivory Coast and then started a transition – pressing Didier Zokora – that led to the next goal.

He played only one half against Japan, came on, set up two Jackson Martinez goals then produced a stunning chip for a sensational goal. In the next round, against Uruguay, he scored the goal of the tournament, then finished one on his right foot to make it 2-0 and take Colombia to the quarter finals for the first time. Against Brazil he scored from the penalty spot.

Colombia scored 12 goals at the World Cup and he was directly involved in 11 of them. For the first time they played with an arrogant swagger in a World Cup and that was all because of James.

Total Goals Scored in past 4 World Cups under this current format -

145 (2010) 147 (2006) 161 (2002) 171 (1998).

Total Goals Scored in Brazil 2014 - 171

A sensational 31 of these goals were headers. Two years ago, the 2012 European Championships broke their record for the amount of headers with 22 and this was easily the most headed goals in any World Cup, a wonderful sign in an era that once could have been defined by the narrow shape of 4-2-3-1.

Top 10 goals

10. Haris Seferovic's counter attacking goal for Switzerland vs Ecuador.

9. Eduardo Vargas finishes off a brilliant, passing counter attack vs Spain

8. James Rodriguez vs Japan – the touch, the dribble, the look, the lob

7. Yacine Brahimi completes a superb team move for Algeria to make it 4-1 against South Korea

6. David Luiz's free kick vs Colombia & the emotion in his face as he celebrated

5. Xherdan Shaqiri's long range opener vs Honduras

4. Lionel Messi vs Iran finally gets some space and blasts it home in injury time from outside the box

3. Tim Cahill's thunderous volley vs Netherlands

2.  Robin Van Persie's diving header against Spain

1. James Rodriguez vs Uruguay. The look, the control on the chest, the turn and the technique. Sensational.

Top 10 games

10. Belgium 2-1 USA
9. Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador
8. Australia 2-3 Netherlands
7. Germany 2-2 Ghana
6. Nigeria 2-3 Argentina
5. USA 2-2 Portugal
4. Spain 0-2 Chile
3. Brazil 1-1 Chile
2. Spain 1-5 Netherlands
1. Germany 7-1 Brazil

My team of the tournament

(4-3-3): Manuel Neuer (GER) Philipp Lahm (GER) Mats Hummels (GER) Giancarlo Gonzalez (CR) Daley Blind (NED); Javier Mascherano (ARG) Toni Kroos (GER) James Rodriguez (COL); Lionel Messi (ARG); Thomas Muller (GER) Arjen Robben (NED).

Conclusion

It was a great World Cup that waited sometime for greatness to emerge from a team. Germany did that in some style in the semi-finals and went on to show why they truly are a great team, winning their first World Cup since 1990. They become the first European team to win a World Cup in South America and considering their group, the location of their games in the intense heat of the north, and their defeats over Brazil and Argentina, this will go down as a true great champion.
 
It is a victory that didn't come down to just one night, one week or, even, one month. We have to think of Vienna 2008, losing to a Spain side in the Euro final and getting a glimpse into what has to be done to be champions. We have to think of Durban 2010, where Spain again showed them the future and the level they had to get to. We have to think of Warsaw, where Italy denied them when they were again so close. And for a team so influenced by Bayern Munich, we have to think of the Champions League finals of 2012 and 2013, where many of these players learned, once again, what it was like to lose before winning it all. Subsequently, Germany's core players arrived in Brazil as true world class winners in the club game. They leave as World Champions.

Germany Celebrates World Cup (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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