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32 Things We’ve Learnt From the World Cup – Part 1

To those in denial, the fact that the 2014 World Cup is over finally hit home when, upon opening their Twitter the morning after the night before, they realised that hashflags were no longer working. There were cries for them to be brought back; symbolic cries that really meant they wanted to enjoy the month long carnival of football all over again.

Alas, the best World Cup of our lifetime is over. But what made it so great?

Over the course of three blog posts, I’ll look at 32 things that made this World Cup the great spectacle it was.

1.Individual brilliance and collective brilliance both win you games, but a combination of the two wins you tournaments

There have been two types of teams that have succeed at the World Cup. The first, like Brazil and Argentina, left you feeling underwhelmed in their wins, but the performance of a world class player or two guided them through. The other, like Costa Rica and the Netherlands, were not packed full of world class players, this was supposed to be The Worst Netherlands Side Ever after all, but were tactically well drilled and clicked as a unit.

But the eventual winner, Germany, had both individual brilliance in abundance and a cohesive team that responded in style to any challenge thrown their way. They were unforgiving at their best, decimating Portugal and Brazil, equally capable of defensively sound performances, keeping a France side that had been brilliant going forward at bay and had players capable of something special to paper over the cracks if needs be.

They also have an outstanding manager in Joachim Low, a man brave enough to admit playing Phillipp Lahm out of position was hindering his team. The Bayern Munich man reverting to full-back helped the Germans find top gear.

That a wonderfully executed team goal, rounded off by one of the hottest young talents in world football, after a diligent and largely resolute display secured the World Cup for Germany was fitting.

2. The Golden Ball could have been split into segments, and the eventual winner was one of the more worthy recipients, if not the most  

No matter who had eventually won the Golden Ball trophy, which isn’t as ball-like as I would have liked it to be, there was bound to be plenty of discontent. Such was the quality on show in Brazil that several players would have been worthy winners.

But there has been a collective cry of outrage over Lionel Messi collecting the award. The diminutive Argentine wasn’t good enough, he looked uninterested, lazy and went missing where it mattered in the final. I don’t disagree with that, especially the final point, but does the reaction to Messi winning the World Cup’s best player show we’re expecting too much from him? If any other player had scored four goals, nabbed an assist, created more chances than anyone else at the World Cup and guided his team into the final, there would probably be outrage had he not won the award. But as it’s Messi, we’re expecting him to score a goal every ten minutes on one leg whilst finding a cure for cancer.

essi would have been high on my list of players my vote would have gone to, but not the eventual recipient. James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben or Thomas Muller were outstanding, and as worthy of the award as the World’s Best Player.

In fact, a defensive player might have deserved it…

3. The unfashionable centre backs and holding midfielders were as important as their superstar chums

Whilst Robben was skipping past opponents, Neymar and Messi were carrying their teams and Germany’s attacking players were being outrageously brilliant, some often uncelebrated chaps were providing a platform for their teammates’ flair.

As much as this was the World Cup for goals and attacking brilliance, it was equally the World Cup for defensive players defying the odds to keep opponents at bay. The unlikely figure of Ron Vlaar was a rock at the back for the Dutch, Brazil, and David Luiz, capitulated without Thiago Silva, Argentina’s progression was as much to do about Messi as it was Javier Mascherano and Bastian Schweinsteiger was willing to fight on with his body blooded and bruised in the final.

4. The Golden Glove could have been split into fingers

There’s no doubting that Manuel Neuer was the best ‘keeper on show at the World Cup, and almost certainly the best in the world right now, but such was the standard of goalkeeping in Brazil that a fair few other glove wearers might have felt they were in with a shout of taking home the individual honour.

Tim Howard and Guilermo Ochoa earned themselves cult status, Keylor Navas earned himself a move to sit on Bayern Munich’s bench and watch the finest example of sweeper keeping in the flesh and Thibaut Courtois proved his class. It turns out goalkeepers can play football, after all.

5. The tempo of the games has given international football renewed street cred

In England at least, international games are looked at as something of a chore. There’s a sense that you have a duty to watch every England game, full well knowing they’ll be a massive snooze fest with the Three Lions making impossibly hard work of beating some minnow that’s entire population could fit inside Vicarage Road.

And recent international tournaments haven’t exactly been great. That’s not to say they haven’t been good, and I wouldn’t dare insult her Royal Highness the World Cup, but the majority of games have been a bit cagey and attacking football/mental end to end scenes of Alan Hansen torture has been at a minimum.

But this month made up for all those stodgy and tiresome intentional games, and then some. Almost every game had you transfixed, and there’s an endless list for best game of the tournament. There were of course the 7-1 and 5-1 hammerings of Brazil and Spain, but there were also the end to end group games that had absolutely everything. My personal favourites were Germany’s 2-2 draw with Ghana and the Netherlands’ 3-2 win over Australia, with the outcome impossible to predict until the final whistle given the pace of the game.

Even in the knock-out stages, where the games got predictably cagey, there was still enough bursts of high tempo football to keep you entertained. It also brought more attention to some of the excellent defences and defenders on show, enhancing the all round brilliance of this World Cup.

In years to come, we’ll tell all about how this was the World Cup where even the ‘dull’ games had some excitement about them. Just don’t mention Iran Vs Nigeria…

6. Two of the most remarkable results in World Cup history have toppled empires

If this World Cup featured just two games, it probably still would have been the best of my lifetime. Seeing the defending champions and the hosts trounced so heavily was remarkable viewing, and signalled the end of an actual Spanish dominance and an ideological Brazilian one.

Spain’s tiki taka, not helped by horrendous mistakes by experienced internationals, seemed to have lost its spark, whilst the idea that Brazil’s past glories make them one of the current world elite is surely not the case.

And now what? Brazil may take time some time to recover; having Silva and Neymar gives them two world class players to build around, but there was an obvious lack of quality in the rest of the squad and there’s no quick fixes for addressing that, as England have found out. The manner of the defeat, as hosts and with a great deal of expectation, will also mean the Brazilian public will require some convincing to get back onside.

Spain, however, may recover at a slightly greater pace. The Spanish style of play has won them three successive tournaments, so I don’t believe they need wholesale changes, just freshening up and to find an alternative style for testing situations; they looked void of ideas at times in Brazil.

Of course, there will be a transition period where some of those experienced players are shifted out of their side and their absence may be felt, but there’s enough quality Spanish players to create excitement rather than worry over Spain 2.0.

7. Mirsolav Klose’s goal scoring record is the perfect example why we should just enjoy greats, not attempt to compare them

To add further insult to the Brazilians on the night of their 7-1 humiliation, their former World Cup winning striker had his goal scoring record taken away from him by the most un-Brazilian of forwards; like Fred just, well, quite good.

Miroslav Klose eclipsed Ronaldo as the highest goal scorer at World Cups with a characteristic poacher’s goal having levelled with the Brazilian earlier in the tournament, another characteristic poacher’s goal.

There’s no denying that Klose is nothing short of a World Cup legend; his name will be in the record books for all to see for evermore. Even if it is eventually beaten, possibly by Thomas Muller, he’ll always be noted down as having held the record for at least four years.

But the style in which Klose has scored his goals, one penalty, some headers and the rest tap-ins, has led some to question whether he is a worthy of holding such a badge. In other words, Ronaldo is better. And yes, at their prime periods, you would rather have Ronaldo in your side than Klose. But why do we have to compare them so vigorously and to such an extent that one appears weak and poor?

We should feel privileged to have seen two great goal scorers in our lifetimes, like we’re privileged to see two of the world’s best ever players in Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Don’t let needless comparisons tamper with your enjoyment of greatness.

8. The gap between big and small is shrinking – the most competitive World Cup ever?

While the shocks stopped once the tournament reached the quarter-final stage, possibly as you would expect, the competitiveness in the earlier rounds is yet another reason why this World Cup was so enjoyable. Cameroon aside, who offered no signs at all that they were a difficult foe to beat, the pre-tournament whipping boys provided stern opposition to the favourites. Australia were there to be beaten 4-0 in every game, but made both Chile and the Dutch work for their wins, Iran fought diligently and probably deserved to beat Argentina, while Ghana and Algeria’s contests with Germany did Africa proud.

It was also a good tournament for the CONCACAF region, with three North American sides progressing to the last 16. Mexico held the hosts, thumped a Croatia side who had looked impressive up until that point and were minutes away from progressing to the quarter-final, while the USA’s relative success got the nation involved in ‘soccer’ more than ever. And, of course, Costa Rica, expected to finish with no points with former champions in their group, shocked everyone by reaching the quarter-finals before being Tim-Krulled.

The underdog might not have had its month in Brazil, but it certainly had its fair share of days.

9. It’s the hope that kills you

I know the World Cup was infinitely better when England weren’t playing, but it’s only right I give them a quick mention. Remember that famous night where we lost to Italy but actually played quite well? Remember when we were definitely going to recover from it and go through? Remember when Rooney equalised against Uruguay and all was well in the world again? Remember when Italy were definitely going to beat Costa Rica?

Na, me neither. The rest of the World Cup was far too good to worry about that nonsense.

10. Pep Guardiola has another assist

The former Barcelona and current Bayern Munich boss is quickly becoming the best international manager of all time without ever having managed an international game. Before the Spaniard took over one of the best club sides in Spain and Germany, the pair were both nearly men; now Germany look set to take over Spain’s position of world dominance. Six Guardiola players started Spain’s 2010 World Cup final win over the Netherlands in 2010, and a further six started for Germany this time around. His ideas and philosophies not only improve club sides, but take individual players to the next level.

So, Pep, fancy a gig in the Premier League?

Click for Part 2 and Part 3

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1 Comment

  1. Raith C Chattonell says:

    Can England not claim an assist to the World Cup? 110 premiership players plying their trade and honing their skills here? Appearing in Brazil for their mother countries (only 22 of whom were representing England) Oh and not forgetting Reza from the beloved Charlton. Do you not feel a sense of pride there? … Nah me neither.

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