It was a great World Cup final in Brazil with the right winners in Germany. Cathal Dervan looks back with his A to Z of the 2014 World Cup.
A is for Algeria and A is for Africa. Algeria did Africa proud with their run to a first ever knock-out stage appearance but the other African nations were a disgrace with cash rows, betting allegations and even a fight on the pitch in the Cameroon squad. Their football is still a far cry from where it should be as Cameroon, Ghana and the Ivory Coast proved while Nigeria were only alright.
B is for Brazil and the team that never raised the bar even close to the expectation level set by the host nation and the world. Boss Big Phil Scolari quit on Monday – before he was pushed – and it was no surprise as his negativity rubbed off on the team that invented the beautiful game but forgot how to play it.
C is for Chile and C is for Colombia, two of the teams that really rocked this World Cup. Chile were just exceptional from start to finish, sent champions Spain packing with a brilliant 2-0 win in their second game and could have beaten Brazil in the last 16. Colombia could have beaten the same Brazil in the last eight, but what a run they had and what a favour they did the world with their win over Uruguay in the second round.
D is for diving, a skill-set on regular display in Brazil and one which the Dutch master himself, Arjen Robben, admitted to in the last 16 game that ended Mexico’s brave run. Robben was one of the standout performers at this World Cup but his willingness to fall over – and cheat – ensures he will never be liked.
E is for England, the team that invented the game itself but can’t remember how to play it effectively in tournaments any more, neither ugly nor beautiful. Roy Hodgson’s team were home before the postcards once again, beaten by Italy and Uruguay, and finished bottom of Group D. At least we got a good laugh at their expense. Again.
F is for Fred, the Brazilian “player” whose World Cup performances typified his team. He was so bad that his own fans turned on him in the third place playoff defeat to Holland. On Sunday, Fred announced his international retirement. My mate Leo reckons he’s going back to the Flintstones!
G is for Gotze and G is for goals. Only one man puts those two together and that was the German substitute Mario Gotze, the 22-year-old whose extra-time goal was worthy of the World Cup winner that it became. Boss Joachim Loew told him to show the world he was better than Messi – he did!
H is for the hands of God, and there were plenty of contenders including Golden Glove winner Manuel Neuer and Costa Rica hero Keylor Navas. Tim Howard, however, gets the vote here for his incredible record breaking performance against Belgium with 16 saves. He is now an all-American hero. And rightly so.
I is for Italy, those wonderful artisans of the game who strolled their way to victory against England – thanks to the wonderful and ageless Pirlo in their midfield – but then followed their Premier League rivals out of the tournament with little aplomb and a lot of headlines in their defeats to Costa Rica and Uruguay.
J is for Jorge as in Jorge Luis Pinto, the 61-year-old Colombian who took charge of Costa Rica at this World Cup finals and took them on a journey beyond their wildest dreams. His tactical genius ensured they played to their strengths, and that was enough to beat England and Italy in the group and Greece on penalties in the last 16 before a cruel spot-kick shoot-out defeat to Holland in the quarters.
K is for Kroos and Kramer, two German stalwarts who will never forget the World Cup final but for very different reasons. Statistically Toni Kroos, about to join Real Madrid, was the best player at the tournament and proved it in the decider. Christoph Kramer got concussed early in that match and can’t remember the first half. He will always remember the result however.
L is for Lionel Messi, who may never reach the immortal heights and who definitely wasn’t the best player at the World Cup despite his dodgy Golden Boot award. One goal against Iran aside, Messi never lit up this tournament like Pele did in 1970 or Maradona did in 1986. That’s why Argentina didn’t win it ultimately. And that’s why the jury is still out on Lionel.
J is for Javier Mascherano, who was more effective for Argentina throughout the tournament than Messi and didn’t deserve to lose it. His best moment, however, came in the semifinal with a last gasp interception as Robben prepared to fire the trigger on the goal that would have won the game for Holland. Brilliant.
N is for Neymar, the one Brazilian of true world class quality who carried his team through to the semifinals with four goals in five games but missed the 7-1 defeat to Germany with a cracked vertebrae sustained against Colombia in the quarters. With him went Brazil’s hopes as those left behind simply failed to rise to the challenge.
O is for Oranje, the color that ripped through Dutch hearts from start to finish in a tournament that proved Louis Van Gaal is the right man for Manchester United. His decision to throw Newcastle ‘keeper Tim Krul on for the penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica was inspired.
P is for Portugal, who flopped even more at this World Cup than champions Spain – who also exited at the group stages – and that is really saying something. Like Spain, they only won one game and barely deserved to draw with the USA. Ronaldo was the greatest disappointment of all.
Q is for Carlos Quieroz, the Portuguese-born Iranian coach who did a Jack Charlton at this World Cup, got the absolute most out of his limited team, multiplied their sense of national pride and almost got a draw against Argentina until Messi decided to wake up. Like Ireland in 1990 and 1994, Iran gave it a lash. But only on the field I suspect!
R is for Rodriguez as in James Rodriguez, the young Colombian striker who should have won the Golden Boot just for his goal against Uruguay in the last 16. It was a strike of the ages and one of the great World Cup goals. He scored six times in this tournament, more than any other player, but FIFA gave the Golden Boot to Messi. Sick!
S is for Suarez as in Luis Suarez, the man who epitomises all that is wrong about the modern game. His bite on the shoulder of the Italian defender Chiellini was a disgrace and his four month ban justified but what does he care – he’s off to Barcelona and a massive wage. Clearly soccer crime pays!
T is for Thomas Muller, the German midfielder who illuminated a second World Cup finals, this time in Brazil. Muller scored five goals in South Africa four years ago and matched that total again as he ran the German system to perfection. T is also for Tim Cahill and that great goal for Australia against Holland.
U is for the USA, the team that Jurgen Klinsmann has finally turned into a side that believes it can compete on the world stage and now knows how to. They deserved better against an under performing Belgium in the knock-out stages, but the bravery of their performances against Ghana and Portugal should never be forgotten.
V is for Robin Van Persie, whose diving header as Holland taught Spain a lesson in how to play World Cup final in their opening game was a thing of such beauty he is unlikely to ever score a better goal again for club or country.
W is for the worst team of tournament, and while many flattered to deceive, including Russia, Spain and Portugal, those who played for South Korea took the biscuit. Their coach quit as soon as they were home – and that didn’t take long!
X is for Xabi Alonso and the World Cup that proved one tournament too many for the great midfielder and for Spain. The only game they won was their final group match against the Aussies and that was irrelevant – just like their bid to defend their title. They looked old and tired in Brazil and need a complete overhaul.
Y is for the Young Player of the Tournament award, the only one FIFA got right when they gave it to the young Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba for his brilliant performances for France. And to think Manchester United let him go as a kid!
Z is for Colombia’s Juan Zuniga, the most hated man in Brazil for the knee into the back that ended Neymar’s World Cup. It seems all of Brazil are blaming Zuniga for their team’s failure to win the cup when the real culprits are much closer to home!
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)