The excitement and euphoria surrounding the build-up to the 2014 World Cup illustrated the feeling that Brazil could provide one of the best tournaments in modern history. A wonderful carnival atmosphere had already begun across many streets and cities, with each of the twelve stadiums poised to provide a feast of football for the world to enjoy. Despite concerns over the considerable heat and humidity levels across Brazil, the group stages surpassed all expectations by providing high quality end-to-end attacking soccer. Each of the thirty-two participating nations immersed themselves in the passion and spirit of the World Cup, with the world’s best players stepping up to the plate to produce an incredible number of goals.
From the reigning World Cup holders being knocked out to Clint Dempsey scoring the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history, the group stages went above and beyond what everyone expected. Each group created intrigue and agonizing moments that could have changed the entire complexion of qualifying for the knock-out phase, with a plethora of wonderful goals and controversial moments making the headlines.
Although the group stages may not be the best time to select a potential winner of the World Cup, such is the unpredictable nature of the tournament and football in general, a selection of teams stood out as looking in great shape to go all the way. The group stages can arguably provide the foundations for a successful World Cup campaign, as getting off to a great start from the off and firing on all cylinders can breathe confidence and belief throughout a squad.
This would certainly apply to Holland who took the world by surprise, dismissing reigning champions Spain in a 5-1 rout that could have been 8 or 9, such was Holland’s dominance. Professional victories against Australia and Chile showed that Holland have the quality and belief to make a real impact at Brazil 2014, with Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben on top of their game. France and Germany also made a big impression in Group E and Group G respectively; the former look a transformed side since the horror show of South Africa 2010, while the latter exuded quality in the ‘Group of Death’ and got the job done, as they so often do in major tournaments.
All eyes were on Brazil in Group A as they held the pressure and expectation of an entire country on their shoulders to progress and bury the ghost of the 1950 World Cup. Brazil duly delivered with their usual flamboyancy, samba skills and quality taking center stage, with poster boy Neymar stepping up to the plate when his country needed him most. Impressive victories against Croatia and Cameroon illustrated Brazil’s attacking qualities, but the 0-0 draw with Mexico demonstrated they may come unstuck against a side who can nullify Neymar and trouble a shaky defense.
World Cup tournaments continue to provide the stage for lesser known and emerging countries to make a name for themselves, with their star players putting themselves in the shop window for a big-money move to a major European club. Costa Rica has taken everyone by surprise by not only showing wonderful creative flair and playing enterprising football, but they topped Group D which included three former World Cup winners. Beating Uruguay and Italy was thoroughly deserved, while the 0-0 draw against a disheartened England side was enough for Costa Rica to surpass all expectations and progress as group winners.
Being drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ provided the USA with an uphill task before the 2014 World Cup had even started. Facing Germany, Portugal and Ghana was a tough ask for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side, but there is no question that the USA would travel to Brazil with plenty of heart and determination to serve their country proud. Despite being behind baseball and basketball in the popularity stakes, the entire nation got behind the team as they progressed from the group against all odds through sheer work-rate, determination and quality that not many give the team credit for.
Despite coming into Brazil 2014 as only fourth favorites in the eyes of many bookmakers, Spain arrived as reigning World Cup holders and were looking to win their fourth consecutive major tournament. Being drawn in Group B alongside Holland, Chile and Australia was always likely to pose a challenge, but it resulted in a World Cup they would rather forget. The opening 5-1 humiliation against Holland instantly led to widespread belief that the golden generation had reached the end of the road, with the following 2-0 defeat to a vibrant Chile side adding more fuel to the fire. From being on the brink of making unprecedented international football history, Spain joined Australia in being among the first nations to exit the World Cup.
Having the best player in the world at their disposal was not enough to save Portugal from a rather disappointing exit from the World Cup. Although they formed part of the ‘Group of Death’, they flattered to deceive and played well within themselves. Cristiano Ronaldo was nowhere near his best, as Portugal never really recovered from their opening 4-0 defeat at the hands of Germany.