Unlike the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that was about as fondly remembered as the vuvuzela, this summer’s visit to Brazil gave a marvellous month of footballing theatre.
The group stage was full of surprises. Spain’s early exit, which featured a shock 5-1 thrashing by the Netherlands, signaled the end of Del Bosque’s empire and their domination of international football, whilst a hapless England side bowed out in dismal fashion. Fellow group D members Italy exited at the first hurdle for the second successive tournament after losing to Uruguay in the match now famous for ‘Chewy’ Luis Suarez’s latest escapade.
Things became nervier as the knockouts began despite a record 136 goals being scored in the frenetic group stage. Brazil made fairly light work of qualifying but came mightily close to elimination in the last 16 at the hands of the impressive Chile, with penalties sending the hosts through. Surprise package Costa Rica also made it into the quarter-finals after defeating the dogged Greeks on spot kicks. The Netherlands, Colombia and France all safely progressed, although Germany, Belgium and Argentina all required extra-time in order to see off weaker opposition.
The quarter-finals featured few goals, just five in the four matches. Despite the individual brilliance of James Rodriguez, whose top-scoring exploits in Brazil led to a £63m move to Real Madrid, his Colombian side fell just short against the hosts, losing 2-1 in Fortaleza. Germany and Argentina both progressed, beating the lackluster France and Belgium 1-0 respectively, whilst the Netherlands needed penalties to see off the popular Costa Ricans.
Even though poster boy Neymar had been ruled out of the rest of the competition with a nasty back injury, the Brazilians were still optimistic as they prepared to face Germany in the first semi-final. That optimism was soon extinguished, however. The host nation were trounced 7-1 with unbelievable ease by the Germans. Joachim’s Loew’s men were typically ruthless, but came up against a dreadful Brazil side without Neymar and suspended captain Thiago Silva. The second semi-final, in total contrast to the first, was forgettable, as Argentina defeated the Netherlands on penalties following a dreary goalless draw.
The final was a tense occasion, and that showed as Argentina’s Higuain missed an early sitter. Hoewedes then hit the post for Germany but the deadlock remained after 90 minutes. It was left for Mario Goetze to write his name into the history books in extra-time with a sublime control and volley from a tight angle to seal a fourth World Cup win for the Germans. Efficient as ever.