World Cup: It Has Been a Tournament For The Ages

Is it Germany's time? Coach Joachim Loew controls the ball during a training session of Germany's national football team in Santo Andre on Thursday ahead of its final match against Argentina on Sunday. (Patrik Stollarz/AFP Photo)
7/12/2014 3:00 PM
Category: Sports

The 2014 football World Cup has provided enough inversions of the usual footballing order for a lifetime. Whether it was the historic fall of global footballing icons Brazil and Spain, events which have bookended the tournament, or the emergence of exciting young players ready to shake up the sporting aristocracy, this has not been a World Cup for casual viewing. Rather, it has been a World Cup that has demanded viewers watch, rapt, awaiting the next visceral thrill.

The third-place match between Brazil and Netherlands will be shown on ETV at 23.00 on Saturday; coverage will begin at 22:30. The championship between Germany and Argentina will be broadcast at 22.00 on Sunday with ETV's coverage kicking off at 21.30. With the final chapter still to be written, it has still been one amazing World Cup - perhaps the best ever, some believe. Below are the abiding memories of a fine tournament from ERR News's journalists.

Most memorable player:

Xherdan Shaqiri

Any footballer who plays for Bayern Munich cannot be considered a hitherto-undiscovered talent. Nonetheless, playing under Pep Guardiola has not been a walk in the park for Shaqiri, who is not a regular starter for the Bundesliga champions. Neither has any of the young Swiss attacking midfielder's life been easy. Moving when young with his family from war-torn Kosovo to Switzerland, Shaqiri has never been the kind of person to try to conform and fit in, much like a fellow migrant from the former Yugoslavia, Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The short, stocky Shaqiri's "otherness", the maverick qualities in his personality, add a spark to his contribution on the pitch. He was the leading light in sensational, and highly successful, Swiss under-19 and under-21 sides, before the national side qualified for Brazil 2014 at the top of their group and in the top ten of the FIFA world rankings. Coming into the "Group of Life" alongside a resurgent France, it was odd that European media refused to talk up a fine Swiss side. A narrow and heart-stopping victory over Ecuador was followed by a 5-2 rude awakening against a rampant France, and a routine dismantling of Honduras.

Up against a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina in the knockout stages, Switzerland seemed to have little chance, and there were plenty of supposed experts willing to write them off as cannon fodder. Shaqiri had other ideas. He ran the Swiss show in the last-16 game against the Albiceleste, running at the shaky Argentine defense without fear, and ensuring with his pace and passing guile that no-one who watched that 120 minutes, ended by a late, late show from Angel di Maria, had anything but respect for the men in the red shirts.

With the Swiss People's Party having obtained popular backing for strict immigration quotas, we may have seen the last golden generation to represent Switzerland for some time, given how the team is such a diverse melting pot of cultures. This was a fine time for Shaqiri to have a great World Cup, an immigrant who has contributed positively to his adopted nation, a strike across the bows of intolerance and an unexpected bright, inventive star turn on the pitch. - Stuart Garlick

Tim Howard

For one match, US goalkeeper Tim Howard had the greatest game ever played by a goalkeeper in the World Cup. In the knockout round of 16 against Belgium, Howard came up with 16 saves, keeping an overmatched American team in the game into extra time.

It was a superhuman display so impressive, that Howard's biography on Wikipedia briefly named him the US "Secretary of Defense," and launched a thousand memes on Twitter, including the hashtag, #whattimhowardcouldsave. Belgium's players mobbed him in appreciation after they ultimately came away with a 2-1 overtime victory that came down to the final whistle; FIFA called Howard in for a mandatory doping test immediately afterwards. It was that impressive.

During one part of the second half as Howard was pelted from every angle but maintained a shutout, a human Iron Dome between the crossbars shooting down all incoming threats. Against all logic, I found myself rooting for Belgium to take a shot, because I knew that Howard would save it and the Americans would get the ball back.

Will it win him the Golden Glove award for this year's tournament? If not, perhaps there needs to be a separate award for turning into a Marvel comic book character. - Scott Abel


Most Notable Game:

Brazil vs. Chile

The match some are now calling the Collapsao, in which Brazil fell to a rampant German side who seemed almost sorrowful in victory, was just the final eruption of a volcano that had emitted tremors for some time previously. The Brazil squad picked by Luiz Felipe Scolari was limited in talent, even if there were no limits to its ambition. Having left out the likes of Phillipe Coutinho, Lucas Moura and Robinho, Scolari's side looked utilitarian, save for the stellar, but still unproven, talent of Neymar.

Chile, coached by the maniacally passionate Jorge Sampaoli, has never been a team respecting traditions, save for their own, begun by great former coach Marcelo Bielsa, who advocated young players working flat-out for their team-mates, and passing the ball with precision and joy. Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and Arturo Vidal took the game to Brazil, never dropping the tempo for a second. Although Brazil won on penalties, this was an exhausting, joyless win for a side of whom miracles were expected. That tearful defeat of a Chilean side with far fewer financial resources was the beginning of the end for Brazil, and a sign that international football could be a great leveller for tactically-astute, athletic teams.

I don't suppose anyone in Brazil is looking forward to seeing their team play again, but I'm going to be glued to Chile's next game. - Stuart Garlick

Netherlands vs. Spain

Sure, the total evisceration of Brazil by Germany was something that you can tell your grandkids that you watched. That game was as rare a sight as Halley's Comet, a 7-1 thrashing that will haunt that country's team and fans for decades.

But Brazil had looked less than elite in several of its games in the lead up to its semi-final defenestration by the Germans. It started the tournament with an own-goal against Croatia. It only managed a 0-0 draw against Mexico, and had to go to penalty kicks against Chile to advance.

For my money, the beatdown of Spain by the Netherlands was the more notable of the shocking matches in this tournament. Not only was Spain the defending champion, but Tiki-taka, Spain's style of play, which is characterized by short passing and movement, had been supreme for more than half a decade. Even Holland's fans didn't expect much from their own team in the tournament.

There were some whispers that perhaps Spain's moment in the sun had run its course. But Xabi Alonso scored in the 27th minute, and it seemed like the new boss would still be the old boss.

Then the roof caved in. Holland's Robin van Persie scored just before halftime on a spectacular goal, where he resembled a dolphin with a beach ball - heading a long, arcing shot past a surprised Iker Casillas. In the second half, Arjen Robben scored two left-footed goals, and Persie made a fool of Casillas, stripping him of the ball and pounding it in on the way to a 5-1 in Salvador.

By the end of the game, it seemed like the Netherlands could have named the score, and it put all of us on notice that whatever we expected in the tournament, we were probably wrong. And it was going to be awesome. - Scott Abel


Surprise of the Tournament:

Gamblers Beat the Odds

This was the World Cup of wily, grinning risk-takers in the dugout beating grim-faced old conservatives. In the first round alone, we said goodbye to Roy Hodgson's shabby England side, and to a desperately dull Russia side coached by traveling charlatan Fabio Capello, the man whose club CV seemingly guarantees success, but who cannot motivate international players, even when he is paid millions of dollars to do so. We also bid a more wistful farewell to two footballing concepts which had outlived their usefulness, Spain's tiki-taka and Italy's catenaccio, neither of which are built for a modern game which is about explosive counter-attack.

Making the final cut were teams coached by men who seemed to enjoy making outwardly perverse decisions seem sensible. Joachim Löw has taken Germany to their first World Cup final since 1990, having defied the German media, for some time operating the best right-back in the world, Philipp Lahm, in midfield, and stuck with 36 year-old Miroslav Klose in the face of average performances, a decision that has led to Klose becoming the highest-scoring World Cup player.

Louis van Gaal was the most outwardly brash of the World Cup coaches, flaunting his gambler's sense of the absurd, successfully fielding striker Dirk Kuyt at right-back, then replacing his goalkeeper just before the penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica. Tim Krul donned the gloves, roughed up the Costa Rican penalty-takers to an almost unsportsmanlike degree, and heralded a new era for football of NFL and NBA-style tactical switches. Although van Gaal's luck finally ran out against Argentina, we still have Lionel Messi to watch, and he's one man who has no problem making magic happen. - Stuart Garlick


The Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean doesn't get much love in the soccer world, or from Fifa. Unlike the European or South American confederations, which get a largess of spots in the World Cup, CONCACAF only gets 3 1/2 positions (Mexico beat New Zealand in a playoff to seize a fourth place). This tournament, however, demonstrated that the New World order in football isn't just made up of South Americans squads.

A Mexican team that was in complete disarray a year ago shut out Brazil, and made it to the knockout round. El Tri was only eliminated on a penalty kick by Netherlands four minutes into stoppage time after Holland's Arjen Robben drew the foul after seemingly being blown over by stiff breezes for most of the match. The Mexican coach, Miguel Herrera, became a living Internet meme over the course of the tournament.

The US team made it out of the "Group of Death," beating Ghana, which had knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups, and coming within seconds of a victory over Portugal (Ronaldo's brilliance made it, for the US, a dispiriting tie as time expired). The Americans also fell to Germany 1-0 (a result that is looking less and less bad in hindsight), and had a chance to tie it late. They extended Belgium, a much more talented team, to overtime before finally falling.

Costa Rica never lost a match in the World Cup. It took penalties kicks by Netherlands to knock Los Ticos out of the tournament.

All three squads went further than traditional powers like England, Italy or Uruguay. No one will take CONCACAF lightly come 2018. - Scott Abel

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