1. Spain were smashing the Netherlands
“This game should be over. Spain are trying to walk the ball in.” The ominous words of Mark Lawrenson, co-commentating for the BBC, towards the end of the first half. Xabi Alonso had put the world champions 1-0 up. Diego Costa wasted a couple of good looks at goal. Andres Iniesta came close. David Silva tried to square the ball instead of slotting home an easy chance.
Then, after Holland had received their second booking (Stefan de Vrij following Jonathan de Guzman into the book), Iniesta’s no-look pass sent Silva clean through. The Manchester City playmaker could have slid it home; he could have slipped Costa an open goal. Instead, he attempted a chip best saved for showboating on the training ground.
Within 90 seconds, Robin van Persie had equalised with that 44th-minute header at the other end. Only one team came out for the second half as Spain, so dominant in the first, were trounced 5-1.
2. Pride-free Lions brawl by the jungle
Alex Song had already earned the Song family its third World Cup red card for an elbow on Croatia's Mario Mandzukic that Macho Man Randy Savage would have been proud of. Cameroon were already 4-0 down in injury time in this group game. It couldn’t get much worse for the Indomitable Lions, could it?
Oh, it could. Benoit Assou-Ekotto headbutted team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo, before Pierre Webo got between his fellow Lions. The brawlers began round two in the tunnel before Samuel Eto’o intervened. Humiliating.
3. Revenge for Rene
Roger Milla famously undid a Colombian keeper at Italia ’90. The hip-wiggling Cameroonian was, however, overtaken by one in Brazil. Faryd Mondragon, at 43 years and three days, came on against Japan to outrank Milla and become the oldest player in World Cup history. (At least until 45-year-old Essam El-Hadary will beat him for Egypt in 2018).
Mondragon, of Lebanese ancestry, also broke a 64-year-old record for the longest span between appearances in the competition (16 years). Well, Faryd does mean ‘unmatched’ in Arabic.
4. Bite leads to a breakthrough
Italy required just a point. Uruguay required the full three to escape Group D with Costa Rica. In the 79th minute, with the game scoreless, Luis Suarez made Giorgio Chiellini his third career bite victim after Otman Bakkal and Branislav Ivanovic. The Italy No.3 collapsed to the floor in pain. Uruguay's No.9 scandalously fell to the floor, clutching his face, faking a collision.
When Chiellini returned to his feet, he yanked his shirt down – Gaston Ramirez was pulling his opponent’s jersey back up – to reveal the bite marks on his shoulder. But the referee waved play on. Less than a minute after the Italian players pleaded incredulously with the official, Uruguay won a corner from which Diego Godin headed home the game's only goal.
FIFA slapped Suarez with the longest suspension they had ever handed out for a World Cup incident (nine internationals), but Italy were out of the competition.
5. Tears and beers
English fans booked cross-Atlantic trips to Brazil in their droves – but the Three Lions were out before some of them even got there. England crumbled out after just two games, falling at the first hurdle for the first time since 1958, while their solitary point was their worst-ever return from a World Cup group stage.
Small consolations did come from Wayne Rooney scoring his maiden goal in the competition at the 10th time of asking, and Luke Shaw becoming the youngest player to feature at Brazil 2014 – but that’s clutching at straws. Brazilian bar staff were, nevertheless, tickled and impressed that the English would order litre bottles of lager – designed to share – per person. Well, they did have sorrows to drown.
6. Behrami survives knockdown to help land knockout
Valon Behrami endured a forgettable Germany 2006, and an even worse South Africa 2010. In Switzerland’s opener against Ecuador in 2014, with the game poised at 1-1 after 93 minutes, the Yugoslavia-born midfielder ran the risk of conceding a penalty. Yet, hyperextending his leg, he made an impeccably-timed sliding challenge to deny Ecuador’s Michael Arroyo a clear-cut opportunity to win the game.
The bleached-blond Behrami leapt to his feet and charged upfield, only to be bulldozed to the ground in midfield. Following a couple of forward rolls, Behrami – remarkably and refreshingly – leapt to his feet again and fed the ball out wide. Just 19 seconds after Behrami’s last-ditch tackle, Haris Seferovic had snatched victory for the Swiss.
7. Mount Navas
Two things were taken for granted of Costa Rica: they’d fall at the first hurdle and leak goals in a tough group containing three former world champions.
In reality, Los Ticos conceded just two goals in eight-and-a-half hours of action and only missed out on a semi-final spot due to a penalty shootout loss against Holland. The chief reason for their success? Keylor Navas. He was exceptional throughout, winning three man-of-the-match awards and leaving Brazil with a tournament-high 91% save percentage.
His form earned him a summer move to Real Madrid.
8. Robben’s crime and confession
“Everybody dives, but nobody admits to it – especially not in the World Cup,” explained Ruud van Nistelrooy. Arjen Robben had done just that throughout Holland’s last-16 tie with Mexico, treating Brazil’s ‘Big Castle’ stadium like a giant trampoline.
"I have to apologise. In the first half I took a dive,” the Dutch winger admitted afterwards. According to Mexico coach Miguel Herrera, Robben blatantly dived three times and should have been sent off in the first hour. Yet the winger wasn’t even cautioned – and with numerical parity, the Dutch scored a late equaliser through Wesley Sneijder, followed by an even later winner.
The deciding goal was a penalty; no prizes for guessing who controversially won it.
9. Wasted Rubles
Russia manager Fabio Capello, on an annual salary of $11.2m, earned twice as much as any other coach at Brazil 2014. In fact, the Italian was reportedly on three times as much as the man who masterminded Germany’s triumph, Jogi Low, and earned more in a week than Mexico boss Miguel Herrera pocketed in a year.
But his Russia side failed to win any of their three snooze-fests before exiting in the group stage. Mexico took seven points from Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon, and were then two minutes away from eliminating the Netherlands and reaching the quarter-finals.
10. Tim Howard can save anything
It’s not often that a goalkeeper concedes twice, ends up on the losing side and emerges as the man of the match. Tim Howard nonetheless did from a rip-roaring last-16 clash between the USA and Belgium. The American made a staggering 16 saves – a World Cup record – to get #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave trending globally.
Responses included the extinction of dinosaurs, the Titanic from sinking, Blockbuster videos from folding and Janet Jackson from being exposed during the Super Bowl. One jester changed the incumbent of the United States Secretary of Defense post on Wikipedia to a certain US goalkeeper. Even president Barack Obama called up Howard and Clint Dempsey post-tournament to congratulate them for their displays in Brazil. "He watched it with his family and his daughters so I’m going to say he is a fan," Howard recalled.
11. Quenchers and towels
Unprecedented cooling breaks were introduced in this tournament. Portugal vs USA, in the searing heat next to the Amazon rainforest, was the first to feature one – but because officials only added two minutes of first-half injury time despite a three-minute pause for refreshments and tennis-style towel-wipes, FIFA classified the next one (undertaken during Holland vs Mexico) as the first 'official' cooling break.
Dutch boss Louis van Gaal attributed his side’s dramatic, come-from-behind victory in that game to cooling breaks affording him the chance to dole out a few tactical masterstrokes. Very modest, Louis.
12. Grobbelaar 2.0
In the 121st minute of a goalless quarter-final between Holland and Costa Rica, World Cup history unfolded: Tim Krul became the first goalkeeper to be sent on solely for a shootout. The Dutch No.23 had saved just two of 20 penalties for Newcastle, but it was two more than first-choice keeper Jasper Cillessen (who had no idea of Van Gaal’s plot) had managed in his entire career.
For each of the five Costa Rican penalties, Krul approached the kicker and, going a step beyond Bruce Grobbelaar's leg-wobbling gamesmanship, used verbal intimidation. The referee twice had to usher the Dutchman back to his line. He then used physical intimidation, bouncing his 6ft 4in frame across the line.
It seemed to work. Krul, being booed by the Salvador crowd, dived the right way for all five spot-kicks he faced, saved two of them and put the Dutch in the semi-finals. There, despite a shootout looming once again, Van Gaal curiously used all three of his subs and Cillessen’s record was extended to 20 penalties faced, zero saved, as Argentina won.
13. Brazilian defenders are FIFA all-stars
Brazil conceded 10 goals in their last two games and 14 overall – five more than any other team. Naturally, David Luiz, Marcelo and Thiago Silva took up three of the four defenders’ positions in FIFA’s team of the tournament. Did FIFA manage to usurp Brazil’s display in that 7-1 loss to Germany in the shambles stakes?
14. Neuer rewrites the job description
Manuel Neuer did what the football dictionary generally terms ‘goalkeeping’ exceptionally well at Brazil 2014. He frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo, charged from his line for an exceptional sliding block on Islam Slimani, produced a stupefying one-handed stop from Mathieu Valbuena and exasperated Paulinho with a double save.
By the time the tournament had ended, however, the Gelsenkirchen native had rewritten the definition of his position courtesy of ball-playing that added an opponent-befuddling dimension to Germany’s game. Overall, Neuer completed 244 passes during the tournament – more than Lionel Messi (242), Wesley Sneijder (242), Thomas Muller (221), Arjen Robben (201) and Paul Pogba (197). Passmeister.
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