And with that, the sun sets over Rio de Janeiro and the carnival leaves town! It always feels like it takes forever to get to a World Cup and, before you know it, it’s done and dusted. It feels like just yesterday Brazil was taking on Croatia to start this tournament. But time and tide wait for no man and, as we saw, Germany lifted the trophy that makes them Champions of the World and gives them bragging rights for four long years. Such is the way that, before you know it, it’ll be 2018 and we’ll be getting ready for the World Cup in Russia. (Save all comments about what cities might be included in that World Cup please).
Before the last bits of confetti are swept away and the lights turned out, we should take stock of the tournament; its highs and its lows, and stop to consider what happened and where things go from here. So, with all that said:
Best World Cup ever? It’s been the question from many folks, specially after the brilliant group stage that gave us so many games and so many goals. The Round of 16 was dazzling, with so many big moments. Then the quarterfinals and semifinals did leave some to be desired and the Final was a tough, cagey match. It’ll take some time to come to a conclusion. For me, the finest World Cup is the one in Mexico 1986. So many great teams, players and moments dotted that World Cup. This one is right behind that one for me. But like I said, it’ll take a few days before I can say conclusively.
The best team won: We tend to focus on the individual stars – the Ronaldos, the Messis, the Robbens. But time and again, it’s not enough to just have a great star. It takes a team and this was reinforced time and again. The performances of teams like Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, United States and Germany proved that. Of all the teams, none stood more as a unit than the Germans, who while bringing incredible talents like Mueller, Ozil, Gotze and Schweinsteiger started on fire (4-0 against Portugal) but had to win as a team against the United States, Nigeria, France and Argentina. Their defense was tenacious. Their midfield was a brilliant. In the end, it took every single player coming together to get over the line and lift the trophy of trophies and add that fourth star to their chest.
Who was the Player of the Tournament? The Golden Ball award went to Lionel Messi in what was more than likely an award decided the night before. The Golden Boot – to the top scorer – went to James Rodriguez. Some people had an issue with Messi winning it given the form of Rodriguez, of Thomas Mueller, of Keylor Navas or Paul Pogba. Personally, I have no problems with Messi winning it. Anyone who saw Argentina getting by Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria and Switzerland knows that it took the brilliance of Messi for Argentina to make it through. Were it to go to anyone else, I don’t think you could skip Colombia’s James Rodriguez, who left Brazil as the revelation of the tournament and caused 10 million fans to google which team he played for and if their own team could buy him. (Bad news: he plays for oil-supported AS Monaco and not unless you’ve got 60 million euros somewhere).
My Team of the Tournament
GK: Keylor Navas, Costa Rica.
RB: Philip Lahm, Germany. CB: Mats Hummels, Germany. CB: Giancarlo Gonzalez, Costa Rica. LB: Marcos Rojo, Argentina
CDM: Javier Mascherano, Argentina. CM: Paul Pogba, France
CAM: James Rodriguez, Colombia
F: Neymar, Brazil. F: Thomas Mueller, Germany. F: Lionel Messi, Argentina
Subs: Tim Howard (USA), Pablo Zabaleta (Argentina), Ron Vlaar (Netherlands), Toni Kroos (Germany), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Juan Cuadrado (Colombia), Karim Benzema (France)
1. James Rodriguez’s volley vs. Uruguay
2. Tim Cahill’s one-timer vs. Netherlands
3. Robin van Persie’s header vs. Spain
4. Lionel Messi’s long-distance shot vs. Iran
5. David Luiz’s free kick vs. Colombia
Brasil, que aconteceu? When I wrote my group stage thoughts, I complained about Brazil’s average form and asked about what would happen if Neymar wasn’t the sparkplug for them. To be fair, I didn’t expect the foul fest that would break out between Colombia and Brazil in the quarterfinals. The referee completely lost control of the match and Brazil, who were more than eager to foul and harass James Rodriguez, lost Neymar to a hard foul. Now, should the loss of Neymar have impacted them as it did in their last two games? Neymar is not a defender and whatever discipline there was in the Brazilian back 5 disappeared against Germany and against Netherlands. As bad as the early exits by Spain, Italy, England, Portugal, Ivory Coast and Ghana, they all pale in comparison with what happened to the Selecao. Record-breaking bad. Inquests and inquisitions will follow to be sure.
The story outside the stadiums: For many, the expected protests and strikes didn’t happen. Part of it was the natural tunnel vision of the tournament – how it seems to dull everything that isn’t the World Cup. But part of it was the crackdowns by the police and the military. The stories of military forces sitting on favelas and controlling them in martial-law-style was under-reported as the eyes of the world focused on the glittering stadia. And the questions that were being asked before the tournament will continue to linger. For nearly $14 billion, Brazil put together a dazzling spectacle. Now what happens to the stadiums and the infrastructure built. Some of it will remain – I doubt the Maracana will be razed. But the Estadio Amazonia in Manaus may become the lingering example of the cost of the World Cup if it becomes like Greece’s infamous baseball diamonds or Sochi’s empty hotels — unused, untouched and rotting away.
The Future: The beauty and danger of World Cups is that they occur only 30 days every 4 years. Meaning that there’s an opportunity to overanalyze and over-emphasize what occurred in those 30 days for long before the next one or long after the last one. The core of the Argentina team that just lost this Final today will be turning 30 (Higuain and Di Maria will be 30, Messi, Romero and Garay will be 31). Likewise for Germany (Mueller and Kroos will be 28, Ozil and Boateng 29, Khedira 31, Neuer 32) and Brazil (Neymar and Oscar will be 26, David Luiz 31) and Spain (De Gea 27, Costa 29, Mata 30, Cesc and Pique 31, Ramos 32) and so many of the teams here. So there’s no reason to not expect them all to enter Russia 2018 with some desire to aim for a World Cup title.
Likewise, if we had issues with the expenditure and the police presence in Brazil, those might pale in comparison to what Russia delivers in 2018. We got a good taste of what Russia can deliver in Sochi earlier this year. $51 billion and hundreds of stories of incomplete hotels and stadia around a town that’s fallen back into disrepair the moment the shining global lights moved away. And that was before the Ukrainian crisis. FIFA is a “non-profit” entity that is supposed to be apolitical. But – as John Oliver so eloquently put it – they manage to make loving this event so difficult.
Finally, Christoph Kramer managed to unwittingly become the face of cranial damage and concussions today thanks to his knock by Ezequiel Garay. How he was let back onto the pitch is a question that should be answered and promptly. FIFA will do their damnedest to blame the German medical staff. But as the damage that CTE inflicts becomes better known, it’ll be difficult for the soccer-loving nations and for the FIFA infrastructure to ignore them for much longer. The NFL is trying like hell to find a way to not have it derail its multi-billion dollar empire. FIFA will fight twice as hard. After all, they have major corporations sponsoring their events.
Thanks to ESPN: I, like many sports fans in the US and abroad, have issues with the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports. And yet, I can’t think of anything they did wrong in their coverage of this tournament. (OK, I’m lying. The one foot they put wrong was to have that biased anti-Arsenal idiot Stewart Robson commentating on the games. Fire his ass!) They provided wall-to-wall coverage of the games. They brought intelligent analysis from former stars like Gilberto Silva, Michael Ballack and Santi Solari. They had the brilliant Men in Blazers bringing non-stop tongue-in-cheek humor and levity to proceedings. Ian Darke was the voice that called the games even in our sleep. And for many like me, they’ll remember enjoying many of the big moments through the WatchESPN app on their phones. Fox Sports now has a tall order in matching these efforts in 2018. No pressure.
Memories: But I should not end this on a negative. After all, headlines and crises fade from memory and all that’s left is the emotional memory of the games. That’s what’ll remain. The memories. So here’s some of mine in no particular order:
– The goal-scoring celebrations by Colombia and Ghana
– The yells of joy at every USA goal
– How the local pubs (Finn McCool’s and Rendezvous) got so packed that news vans couldn’t park anywhere near them
– Luis Suarez’s bite and the ridiculous reaction from Uruguay
– Miguel Herrera
– The near-misses by Chile against Brazil.
– How astonished I was at the 7-1
– The fact I don’t have to say what game I’m talking about when I say “The 7-1”. Everyone knows which “7-1” I mean!
– The goal-scoring verve from Chile, Colombia, Netherlands, Germany and Brazil.
– Rooting for Algeria and Nigeria and Costa Rica and Iran.
– How disappointed so many in the United States were at Iran’s loss against Argentina.
– How every Hooters, Buffalo Wild Wings and other sports bar in America was packed for that Germany game. Nevermind the fan fests in Chicago, L.A. and elsewhere. This told me the sport was growing in the United States. People ducking work to see a soccer match! Welcome aboard!!
With that, we bid a fond a partida to Brazil 2014. The party is over. Sweep away the last of the confetti and…oh wait…in the distance, I hear the sound of the club season nearing. That’s why I love soccer: it’s never really a goodbye.