Well, that was quite a wild ride!
The semifinals came and went: in what was a record spanking, Germany absolutely dismantled host nation Brazil 7-1, a result that is still sending reverberations across world football! Toni Kroos and André Schürrle were the stars with a well-deserved double each. In the process, Miroslav Klose became the record goal scorer at the World Cup with 16 goals to his name in four tournaments, surpassing Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima of Brazil.
Several Brazil players were culpable for the loss, including David “Playstation” Luiz as Captain Chaos for the day, but most of the blame lies at the feet of coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. As a Brazil fan, I don’t even know what to say, except that — similar to what Germany did after failing to make it out of the group phase back in Euro 2000 (they ended bottom) — it is time for Brazilian football to rip up their blueprint and go back to basics and jogo bonito. The cynical one-man-makes-the-team football they played this tournament wasn’t and will never be truly good enough; they need to recall what playing Brazilian means. Germany reaped the fruits of their 14 years of labour (we’ll come to that in a bit), and Brazil will need a proper plan in a similar vein to return to glory.
In the other semifinal, Argentina and The Netherlands fought to a standstill for 120 minutes, with neither side landing the killer blow. Everyone looked to Lionel Messi to show up, but the Dutch contained him superbly. Argentine Javier Mascherano was the real star for Argentina, preventing the equally stellar Dutch winger Arjen Robben from scoring in the last few minutes of regular time. It came down to the old “lottery” of penalties to separate them, with Argentina going through 4-2 and yet more penalty heartbreak for the Dutch.
So on Saturday, July 12, 2014, we had the “Battle of the Losers” — aka the third-place playoff featuring Brazil vs. the Netherlands. Who would at least rescue some pride, and who would go home with the dreaded fourth-place booby prize? Sadly for Brazilian fans it was the Netherlands who turned up, and with another haphazard performance the Brazilian midfield and attack were shown up by the team that can claim to have been the greatest overachievers. Ranked in the teens before the tournament — and not given a chance to even pass the group stages with their young, inexperienced squad — the Oranje went home with their pride intact with a clinical 3-0 win over the Selecao, having not lost once in regulation time all tournament. The ever-dangerous Robben was at the centre of all things, and goals for Robin van Persie, Daley Blind and Georginio Wijnaldum saw off the hosts. Brazilians were left to pick up the pieces of their football pride, and after a period of mourning there must be great introspection. The most successful nation in World Cup history had been humbled not once but twice in a row in their own backyard.
The World Cup final on July 13, 2014, featured Germany vs Argentina. Would it be four stars for Die Mannschaft or an elusive third star for La Albiceleste? The first half saw the Germans’ passing carousel up against the blinding pace of the Argentinian counter, and it was Argentina who had two great chances despite having less of the ball – Gonzalo Higuain missed a chance from a rare mistake on the German defence and then later had the ball in the net; however, it was rightly ruled out for offside. At the end of the half, Germany almost made them pay when Benedikt Howedes put a bullet header on the upright. The second half was more of the same, with chances being spurned twice by Messi, Rodrigo Palacio, Thomas Müller, Mesut Ozil and Schürrle as both sides didn’t seem to have their shooting boots on.
The game went to extra time, and it was here that Germany made their dominance tell. The Argentina goal was put under an onslaught, and it was in minute 113 that two subs (Schürrle and Mario Goetze) combined to score the only goal of the match — one worthy of a final. Schurrle broke down the left and swung in a cross between two defenders. Goetze, free in the box, collected it on his chest and fired in a volley with his left foot past a despairing Sergio Romero in goal. Germany had finally exorcised the ghosts of their finals defeat in 2002, and over a decade of planning had paid dividends. Messi & Co. were vanquished, and Germany had their 4th star, 24 years after their last victory! Well done to the Germans — they deserved it.
Germany’s Manuel Neuer earned the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper, while Colombia’s James Rodriguez won the Golden Boot for scoring 6 goals, the most at the tournament. Messi more controversially won the Golden Ball for most valuable player. In my opinion there were several players more deserving, including Robben, Germany’s Müller and Argentina’s Mascherano, but que sera sera! France’s Paul Pogba won the Young Player award, while Colombia won the Fair Play award.
The World Cup is over, but it was one no one will soon forget. It was full of splendid goals, marvellous saves, titanic battles in overtime, clinical (and not-so-clinical) penalties and quite a few controversies (I’m looking at you, Luis Suarez!). The host team may have disappointed, but the country put on quite a party! Here’s to hoping 2018 in Russia will be as entertaining!