It has now been a week since the World Cup final but to me it feels like so much longer with no football on TV to watch in amazement at. And this final World Cup blog post is all about that. Amazement. Between June 12 and July 13 we were treated to things of amazement. Here are the top ten moments of a fantastic spectacle to finish off my Brazil 2014 coverage in style.
10. The brilliance of James Rodriguez
With Falcao ruled out through injury, Colombia needed somebody else to step up and be their talisman in Brazil. It was Falcao’s AS Monaco teammate, 23 year old James Rodriguez, who took up the responsibility with both hands, and was one of the sensations of the tournament. He scored six goals in just five games as his country made it to the quarter-finals, making sure he took home the golden boot, whilst he also set up two goals for teammates, meaning he was involved in eight of Colombia’s 12 tournament goals. But he didn’t just score simple tap-ins. Oh no, Rodriguez hit the net in spectacular fashion, with his two stand-out goals coming against Japan and Uruguay, the latter of which you voted as goal of the tournament. As expected, Rodriguez was nominated for the Golden Ball, which although he didn’t win, the forward was named in the team of the tournament. Brazil 2014 was when Rodriguez emerged as one of the world’s brightest talents and there are reports that he could soon be on his way to Real Madrid.
9. The Flying Dutchman
We saw many fantastic goals in Brazil, and the first truly spectacular one we saw came on Day 2 in Holland’s 5-1 thrashing of Spain. With his team 1-0 down, Robin van Persie scored one of the best headers you will ever see and sent the Oranje fans into hysteria. The Manchester United striker escaped the attentions of Sergio Ramos and met Daley Blind’s crossfield pass with an astonishing 15-yard header that looped over a despairing Iker Casillas to astound the Spanish keeper and everbody else watching on. You voted it as the third best goal of the tournament behind Tim Cahill and James Rodriguez.
8. The vertebra heard round the world
When Neymar went down under the challenge of Colombia’s Juan Zuniga in Brazil’s in quarter-final, it didn’t look at first as though it was anything serious. The opposite soon emerged and the Barcelona forward’s tournament came to a crashing end as did Brazil’s. He had to be carried off on a stretcher in tears and it emerged after the game that he had fractured a vertebra in his spine when kneed in the back by Zuniga – who went unpunished. Without him Brazil collapsed, and despite going on to beat Colombia, they failed to win either of their final two games and finished fourth.
7. Costa Rica’s success story
One of the surprise teams of the tournament, Costa Rica came into the World Cup, bereft of two of their best players, and in a World Cup group with three former world champions (including England). They left it astonishingly close to the semi-finals and to a heroes welcome back home. Having beaten Uruguay and Italy, and drawing with England in a dead rubber, they then saw off Greece in a penalty shootout in the last 16 but lost to the Netherlands by the same method in the quarter-final. They surprised everybody including themselves after doing something which no one thought was possible.
6. The death of Spain
Although some people did not expect Spain to retain the World Cup including me, no one foresaw their group stage exit, which declared the era of Spanish dominance in international football well and truly over. A 5-1 defeat to Netherlands in their first game started the meltdown, with the defence looking all over the place as Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie helped themselves to two each, whilst Stephan de Vrij also got on the scoresheet. Their next game against Chile came around and nothing changed as they lost 2-0 and knocked out after just two games. Everything was going wrong and even a 3-0 win over Australia couldn’t do much to increase Spanish spirits. We will wait and see how they react in Euro 2016 qualifying, but it’s safe to say they won’t be tournament favourites any time soon.
5. Van Gaal’s risky substitution
Call it genius, call it lucky, or call it stupidity that came through, but Louis van Gaal produced a memorable moment when he switched goalkeepers just before the Netherlands penalty shootout against Costa Rica. With the score at 0-0 at the end of extra time with just seconds remaining, the now Manchester United boss substituted first choice stopper Jasper Cillessen for Tim Krul in time for the shootout. The Costa Ricans had looked so clinical in their penalty shootout in the previous round, but Krul made two beastly saves and made his manager look really, really good.
4. Klose grabs the record
Miroslav Klose came into the tournament needing two goals to become the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer. He got them. The 36 year old scored with his first touch of the tournament from a yard out, after coming on as a substitute against Ghana and become the joint top-scorer in World Cup history, alongside Ronaldo. He then scored his landmark 16th in the 7-1 rout of Ronaldo’s former side Brazil in the semi-finals. Although many would argue that that the man whose record he took remains the better player, it’s still a fantastic stat for the Lazio player to have, and winning the tournament made it even sweeter.
3. Gotze wins it style
Many have called it the best goal to ever win a World Cup final. And it was certainly a cracker scored by Mario Gotze in the Maracana to win Germany the trophy last weekend. The Bayern Munich midfielder had been having a disappointing tournament and was dropped in the latter stages. But he was brought on in the final and with 113 minutes on the clock, and penalties on the horizon, the substitute demonstrated perfect technique and commendable calm to chest down Andre Schurrle’s pass and sweep in a left-foot finish past Sergio Romero to send his homeland into raptures and write himself into football history.
2. Suarez gets hungry again
Some people saw Luis Suarez bite Otman Bakkal in the Dutch Eredivisie in 2010, more saw him sink his teeth into Branislav Ivanovic in 2013, but the whole world was watching as the Uruguayan decided to take a nibble on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in the final Group D match. His action touched off worldwide controversy and brought a nine-match ban from playing for Uruguay and four-month prohibition from football – the toughest sanction ever given at a World Cup. After initially clutching his teeth on the pitch as if he was the injured party, Suarez eventually apologised and Chiellini forgave him. However, the incident did not stop Suarez securing a £75 million move to Barcelona.
1. Seven is the magic number
This was the tournament where Brazil were supposed to shake off the historical scars of the 1950 “Maracanazo” when Uruguay defeated them 2-1 in Rio de Janeiro`s famous stadium the last time they hosted the World Cup. Yet they never even made it to the Maracana this time, collapsing horribly to Germany 7-1 in the semi-final in Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium. It would be hard to pinpoint one pivotal moment as goal-after-goal flew past the imploding Brazilians. But it was perhaps when Toni Kroos`s left-foot shot put the Germans 3-0 up in the 24th minute that the horror really set in for the capacity crowd and millions of Brazilians watching round the nation. Five goals went in during a 19-minute spell of the first half in Brazil`s record World Cup defeat and their first loss at home in 64 competitive matches since 1975. The match truly sent shock waves throughout the world and you voted it as your game of the tournament. No one saw it coming, and that’s why I’ve picked it as my top moment from a remarkable tournament full of outstanding memories. Sorry Brazil.