Its all over. We have to wait 4 more years for this festival of football to return. This is one of the saddest times you’ll experience. The thought of having to wait until the weekend to watch football matches is repulsive. I want 3 matches a day forever. What a summer, what a World Cup.
Brazil v Croatia kicked off the World Cup this year in Sao Paulo on a Thursday evening (why did it start on a Thursday? Does anyone know?). The pulsating tie resulted in a 3-1 victory for the hosts which set the tone for a brilliant month of football that will live long in the memory.
First there was the collapse of the Spanish footballing empire. A 5-1 loss to the Netherlands in the opening game was a sign of things to come as the winners of 3 consecutive major tournaments crashed out in the group stage. Chile ultimately proving to be the team that put the final nail in the coffin.
Chile were one of a number of hugely exciting and somewhat surprising teams to make it to the knockout stages. Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico all impressed and progressed from their groups when many wouldn’t have expected them to do so. They also all employed variations on a formation that involved playing 3 at the back. The re-emergence of this way of playing was an interesting development during this World Cup. The formation allows energetic wing backs to get up and down the wide areas whilst the 3 centre backs can give you an extra body in defence.
Costa Rica were my team of the tournament. That collection of players shouldn’t have taken a point from the difficult group they were put in. But they took 7 and then knocked out Greece (the less said about them, the better) before finally succumbing on penalties to the Netherlands. Unfortunately we can’t mention Costa Rica without mentioning England.
Contrary to popular belief I actually think the World Cup went O.K. for England. It gave the young core a taste of a major tournament and the performances of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley show that there are reasons to be optimistic. There is a long way to go before this team is successful (I consider Semi Finals a huge success for England) but there are the beginnings of an effective football team. We perhaps lack young defenders and defensive midfielders but in other areas we are young and strong (Hart, Stones, Shaw, Wilshere, Barkley, Sterling, Ox, Welbeck, Sturridge etc).
Another huge development during this World Cup was the way it was embraced by the American fans. The USA is a market that has long been a target of expansion for FIFA and football in general (MLS expanding, European teams playing pre-season games, more big names heading there to play). This seemed to be the first World Cup where the American public were strongly invested in seeing their boys do well. Bars and stadiums were packed out, they had a theme song, they had celebrities involved. It really did seem like the USA was starting to see why “soccer” (FOOTBALL) was the most popular game in the world.
Whilst many teams impressed, this was really the World Cup were certain individuals came to the fore. The rise of James Rodriguez was amazing to watch. The leader of a Colombia team that defied expectations and arguably should have beaten Brazil in the Quarter Finals. His goal against Uruguay was a joy to behold. A swerving volley that announced him to the world, Real Madrid were certainly watching. They forked out €80million to secure his signature from Monaco.
Lionel Messi finally performed at a World Cup. Guiding his team to the Final, scoring 4 goals in the process. He produced his usual moments of magic, including a last minute winner against Iran and a mazy run to set up Angel Di Maria to score a late winner against Switzerland in the knockout stages.
Neymar was the spiritual leader of not just a team but an entire nation, as Brazil had an emotional run to the Semi Finals. They cruised through the group stages putting together some impressive performances. But the pressure seemed to be too much for Brazil in the knockout stages. The almost over the top renditions of the national anthem, the ridiculous holding Neymar’s shirt up in the Semi Final (he was injured, not dead). Nothing could have prepared them for what happened in that Semi Final though. Germany completely embarrassed Brazil on their own soil. An absolutely crushing 7-1 defeat was a dreadful way for Brazil to end their home tournament.
So what of the eventual winners. Germany were worthy winners, from the start of the tournament, when they battered Portugal 4-0 to the end, when they embarrassed Brazil. They consistently performed well and beat some of the better teams in the tournament. An incredible month of football in Brazil left us all wanting more. It was a superb World Cup and a superb summer of football.