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Thrilling soccer, shocking upsets, Shakespearean drama, and goals galore — the tournament had it all.
LIMA, Peru — It’s a simple question, and one that fans around the world will love to debate for years to come.
Was Brazil 2014 the greatest World Cup ever?
GlobalPost has cast its vote. Here we give you six reasons why the answer just has to be, “Yes!”
It’s hard to argue with statistics. Brazil 2014, it turns out, was the joint highest-scoring World Cup of all time. Mario Gotze’s brilliant 113th-minute winner for Germany against Argentina in Sunday’s final was the 171st goal of the tournament, which matched the record reached at France 1998. Of course, more than most sports, soccer is about so much more than scoring. Nevertheless, if tying the record goal haul doesn’t go a long way toward ending the debate over the best cup, then what does?
Gotze’s stunner pales next to some other dazzling goals of the last month. David Luiz’s cracker for Brazil against Colombia could be the free kick of the tournament. For many, though, the very best goal was James Rodriguez’s chest-turn-and-volley for Colombia versus Uruguay. But there’s one strike, back in the earliest days of the cup, that arguably outshines them all: Australian Tim Cahill’s utterly ridiculous volley (see video clip above) against mighty Holland, the kind of shot that kids around the world fantasize about. In case you’re not convinced, then perhaps you’d like to argue with Brazil’s legendary goal machine Ronaldo?
When you add to the goal bonanza a long list of outstanding goalkeeping performances, then you know you have something special, the stuff sporting classics are made of. Barack Obama even joked that he’d consider Team USA’s Tim Howard for next secretary of defense for his heroics against Belgium. Numerous other keepers shone, including Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa, Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas, Chile’s Claudio Bravo, Colombia’s David Ospina, Netherlands’ penalty specialist Tim Krul and, of course, Germany’s immense Manuel Neuer, who won the Golden Glove for the tournament’s best stopper. Ochoa’s save against Brazil even earned comparisons — briefly — with the 1970 reflex stop by England’s Gordon Banks against Pele, a block that’s often cited as the greatest ever.
The end of the world as Brazilian fans knew it. (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)
Defending champions Spain started the trend with their startling 5-1 capitulation to the Netherlands. Not only did they crash out in the tournament’s earliest stage, after just two games, but Spain was the first of the 32 teams in Brazil to book flights home. That’s no small achievement for the side that’s dominated world soccer for the last six years. Yet the Spain-Netherlands game was not even close to being Brazil 2014’s most shocking. Indeed, Germany’s 7-1 demolition of the hosts could well go down as the most jaw-dropping result in World Cup history. That score, a record for both Brazil’s team and for a World Cup semifinal, was unexpected in so many ways. Germany’s win was hardly a surprise; before the game most neutrals probably gave them the edge. But not like this! The final score was not far from the all-time biggest defeat in a World Cup: Hungary’s 10-1 trouncing of El Salvador in 1982. Not what you would expect from Brazil, winner of a record five World Cups, playing at home, and universally accepted as the greatest soccer nation.
It takes more than great scores or fancy plays for a tournament to go down in sports history. Another vital ingredient is the kind of epic narrative of human emotion served up by the greatest novels or movies. And Brazil 2014 did not disappoint. First, we had the ultimate villain, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, biting an opponent — for the third time in his career — and forcing world soccer’s governing body FIFA to banish him. Even in cage fighting — Brazil’s second most popular sport, by the way — biting is a huge no-no. Then there were the Davids challenging the Goliaths. Take tiny Costa Rica, which for the first time advanced to the quarterfinals, only losing on penalties against the Netherlands, the 2010 cup’s runner-ups. The last eight was the stage when things got truly Shakespearian. The tragedy struck when Brazil’s talismanic Neymar was sidelined with a broken vertebra. The cup’s final act, however, was perhaps cheesier than the great bard usually managed — the good guys won. Like them or not, no one seems to be disputing that the Germans are either worthy champions or soccer’s current best team.
(Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)
Even after that 7-1 national catastrophe against Germany, few can doubt that Brazil is the world’s greatest soccer nation, with a long tradition of producing magical players and mythical teams. And after all the pre-tournament scare stories, anti-government protesters failed to appear in numbers, while the gleaming stadiums offered beauty in line with their controversial $11-billion price tag. When you then add to the mix tropical sunshine, beaches, samba, string bikinis and caipirinha cocktails — not to mention Brazilians’ famed love of a good party — then it’s hard to dispute that the South American giant is probably the best possible choice to host to a World Cup. In fact, shouldn’t FIFA hold every World Cup in Brazil? That would at least help Brazil get value for money from its 12 state-of-the-art arenas. And if you’re still not convinced, then think how keen you are — no disrespect intended — to attend the next two World Cups, Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022?