It was the World Cup of 2014. It was the World Cup of goal line technology, vanishing spray and cooling breaks. It was the World Cup of Rodriguez & Robben, Kroos & Klose, Muller & Mascherano. The World Cup played deep in the Amazon, where the defending champions were humiliated in their 2nd game and the hosts humiliated even further in their 2nd last game. It was the World Cup of gravity defying headers, unforgettable volleys and forgettable bites. It was the World Cup of goalkeeping heroics from Howard, Ospina and Ochoa. The World Cup with the joint all-time record for number of goals scored (171) & where Klose beat the all-time goal scoring record (he has 16). It was a memorable World Cup. In an effort to preserve the memories of arguably the best World Cup in my lifetime (I have followed 5). I have written a summary in the form of a drama in 5 acts – with Act 1 being the Group stages, Act 2 the Round of 16 etc. 32 characters took part in the play, with only one left standing at the end. For the World Cup was just that: a month-long drama that kept us on the edges of our seats before blasting us off right at end.
Act 1: The Group Stages – The Emperor has no clothes.
Enter 32 characters from 5 continents with Spain as the reigning champions. After all the anticipation and preparation, the 2014 World Cup kicked off on 12 June 2014 as the hosts were somewhat fortunate to overcome a talented if limited Croatian side 3-1. A tame 0-0 draw followed for the hosts against a solid Mexican team who would qualify as runners up in Group A. The biggest shock came as early as the 2nd day when the Netherlands humiliated defending champions Spain 5-1, a game that featured a special diving header by Robin van Persie. Spain lost their next game to eventual runners up Chile and won a consolation victory in the end, yet returned to Madrid with their tails between their legs. In Group C, Colombia won many hearts with great performances from one of the players of the tournament James Rodriguez and Greece painfully edged Ivory Coast with an injury time penalty in their group decider. England were also knocked out in the first round alongside Italy, but Uruguay where runners up to surprise survivor Costa Rica. France and Switzerland went through from Group G, and Argentina needed some Messi brilliance to progress from Group F alongside Nigeria. Germany & USA, Belgium & Algeria completed the qualifiers as Africa had 2 qualifiers for the 1st time. 16 characters were eliminated. And then there were 16.
Act 2: The Round of 16 – Tight Affairs.
The high quality of football at these finals was most evident in the Last 16 where 6 of the 8 games were settled by either one goal or less (penalties) with only 3 of 8 games decided in regulation 90 minutes. Besides Germany edging Algeria (even that in extra time) and France beating Nigeria, the other 6 games were so unpredictable that a quarter final line-up made up of the losers would have been unsurprising. Chile lost on penalties, Uruguay only after their star striker Luis Suarez was suspended for their 2-0 loss to Colombia for biting Italian Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder in their group stages decider, Mexico lost to two goals scored after the 88th minute, Greece lost on penalties, Switzerland lost via a 118th minute goal, USA also lost in extra time. It was so close, only the Group winners from the previous round made it through. And then there were 8.
Act 3: The Quarter Finals – First among Equals
8 group winners; 8 pretenders to the throne; the script could not have been written any better as all 8 teams deserved to be in the quarter finals after winning tight encounters against equally talented teams. Again, the matches were very tight, with 3 games settled by one goal (Fra 0-1 Ger, Bra 2-1 Col, Arg 1 – 0 Bel) while Holland needed the heroics of a last-minute specialist substitute keeper to win on penalties against Costa Rica. And then there were 4.
Act 4: The semi finals – A Nation’s Tragedy
It was as if the football gods were making it up for the previous tight two rounds. Germany arrived at the Estadio Mineirao for their World Cup semi as slight favorites for victory given that star Brazilian striker Neymar was out injured, but what happened next must have shocked even the most patriotic of German fans. After taking a 5-0 lead in the first 30 minutes, the Europeans went on to win 7-1 and in the process breaking all sorts of records – the biggest goal margin in a semi, highest goal concession by Brazil, most talked about sporting event on twitter. As one writer put it, Germany didn’t just crash the Brazilian party; they turned down the music, threw the punch down the sink and tore down the bunting. It was a match for the ages – if not the best performance in modern day football history. The second semi was much tighter with a 0-0 draw that Argentina only won penalties. And then there were 2.
Act 5: The Final – Table for Two
Argentina & Germany met in the final – a repeat of the 1990 final that Germany won. It wasn’t goal-laden but it was a good game where both teams had chances to win it in 120 absorbing minutes. But after 2 extra-time victories against European teams (against Switzerland & Netherlands), Argentina finally crumbled to this one with 7 minutes of extra time remaining. Fittingly for the tournament, a piece of brilliance won it as substitute Mario Gotze chested a cross & volleyed home from a tight angle in one movement. The Germans came, the Germans saw, the Germans conquered. And then there was one.
Was this the greatest tournament ever?
Many seem to think so. And the records speak even louder- an event that was exciting & intriguing in equal, thrilling measure. There must have been 4 matches that at their conclusion were dubbed as Game of the Tournament. But ultimately, the Germans got Europe’s 1st World Cup win in South America and Africa continued to flatter to deceive. For the past half-decade, there has been a tenacious beauty in Germany’s play, embodied by the sweet touches and breaks of creative zephyrs Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil & Mario Gotze. But greatness in football cannot be bestowed until silverware follows quicksilver movement. Only now can this group join the pantheon of football greats.
Before the final match kickoff, a ceremony took place where President Vladimir Putin received a certificate officially passing the World Cup hosting rights to Russia. And just like that, in the corridors of the Maricana, the greatest show on earth moved from one end of the globe to another. From the beaches & sun of Rio to the snow and cold of St Petersburg. From the cocktails of the Copacabana to the vodka of Volgograd. Next stop Moscow.
The Son-of Moyo awards:
Best Player – Javier Mascherano
Young Player – James Rodriguez
Biggest Surprise – Costa Rica’s run to the QF
Moemish/Disappointment – Suarez’s bite on another player
Champagne Moment – Miroslav Klose breakig the all-time goalscoring record
Best Goal – van Persie’s header vs Spain
Best Game – Germany vs Brazil
Interesting stat – the Brazil v Germany game broke the record for the most talked about sporting event on Twitter (35,6 million tweets) beating the 2014 Superbowl (24,9 million tweets).