The people who don’t steadfastly admit that the 2014 World Cup in Brazil has been the best ever edition of the great tournament will at least grant this: It’s the best World Cup in “recent memory.”
Or, in other words, this may not be the best World Cup ever but I can’t remember a better one.
It has been an incredible month. It’s been the event the World Cup needed, just as ridiculous claims that the Champions League was growing bigger and relegating the World Cup to a place of lesser importance.
Never has the passion, drama, and heartening value of the World Cup been higher. Now, it’s time to celebrate the best of what we saw in Brazil. World Cup 2018 can’t come soon enough.
Best Game – Brazil 1, Chile 1
This was the first game of the knockout stage, in Belo Horizonte. After a terrific group stage, there was a question of how the latter stages of the tournament would follow up the opening act.
Immediately, the pace was furious in a cauldron of ear-shattering noise and nerves in Belo. Brazil started well, and David Luiz got the opener inside twenty minutes. But as Chile grew into the game and Alexis Sanchez got the equalizer, the tension became unbearable.
Brazil’s World Cup campaign – always so emotional and so fragile – hung by a thread for the world to see.
And just as the game appeared destined for penalties, Piniella of Chile unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot that crashed off the bar. Brazil were that close to going out of the tournament. If that wasn’t cruel enough on Chile, Gonzalo Jara hit the post with the decisive fifth penalty, and Brazil survived.
It was jaw-dropping and frantic. Brazil were fun at this World Cup, even if they weren’t that good.
This was an all-time classic. Perhaps it won’t get its due because of Brazil’s spectacular end in this World Cup and Chile’s lack of star power, but this game shouldn’t be forgotten.
Honorable Mention: Netherlands 5, Spain 1; Uruguay 2, England 1; Brazil 2, Colombia 1; Germany 7, Brazil 1.
Best Underdog – Australia
The Aussies were doomed, remember? They faced a Murderer’s Row of Chile, Holland, and Spain in a Group of Death with a new manager and their worst team in a decade.
But much like the United States, Australia have a certain deranged competitive spirit and heart that make them impossible not to adore.
Against Chile, the Aussies barely looked professional after they went down 2-0 inside twelve minutes. But thanks to a signature monster leap from the terrific Tim Cahill, Australia pulled themselves back into the game and had Chile on the back-foot for a solid 40 minutes.
Cahill even put in the equalizer with an even better leap in the second half, but it was ruled out for offsides. In the end, Chile got an insurance goal and won 3-1. But the Australians made their country proud – and would make their country even prouder by leading eventual third place winners the Netherlands 2-1 after a Milo Jedinak penalty.
Unafraid to attack – often to the tune of their own ruin – Australia’s brave performance was a joy to watch.
Honorable Mention: United States, Algeria, Costa Rica
Best Goal – Tim Cahill v. Holland
Speaking of Australia, Tim Cahill’s equalizer against the Netherlands was the most astounding and best goal of the 2014 World Cup.
Taken with his weak foot, on the run from a 42.5-yard lofted pass, just a minute after the Netherlands opened the scoring, Cahill roofed his volley. There was no question from the moment he hit it and ran to the corner flag for his signature goal celebration that we wouldn’t see better in the tournament.
Honorable Mention: James Rodriguez v. Uruguay; Jermaine Jones v. Portugal; Lionel Messi v. Nigeria; Robin Van Persie v. Spain, David Luiz v. Colombia, Mario Gotze v. Argentina
Best Fans – USA
It’s become part of the narrative now around the United States’ 2014 World Cup campaign around the world, especially around England and in Brazil: The American fans were awesome – and we know there are now a lot of new ones.
The reports of the rapturous support from all around Brazil – including the Amazon outpost of Manaus were remarkable, and it was fantastic to hear chants of “U-S-A” and “I Believe That We Will Win” ringing around the four stadiums the Americans played in.
With famous support from the likes of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and public viewing parties and Twitter hash-tags, the whole world is now feeling a shade of giddiness about the potential of moving the 2022 tournament to the US.
Honorable Mention: South American countries
Best Manager – Vahid Halilhodzic, Algeria
In a tournament with few truly standout coaching performances – though Louis Van Gaal did his fair share of self-promoting, intentionally or not – Halilhodzic wins this award because of redemption – for himself, and his team.
In 2010, Halilhodzic guided Ivory Coast to the World Cup, but was sacked just months before the tournament was set to start so the Ivory Coast Federation could let Sven-Goren Eriksson reap the benefits of Halilhodzic’s work.
Meanwhile, Algeria went to the World Cup with the most negative mindset of any team at the tournament – including North Korea and New Zealand – and got bounced with one point and not a single, solitary goal for their fans to celebrate.
It was an awful display, equal parts pitiful and disgusting. Halilhodzic got the job in 2012, and turned Algeria around.
Qualifying for the World Cup, the Algerians did their nation very proud indeed. After a strong showing in an opening 2-1 loss to Belgium in which the Algerians led for the majority of the match, Halilhodzic’s team crushed South Korea 4-2 with a series of perfectly executed counter-attacks and exquisite passing play.
A gutsy 1-1 draw with Russia took the Algerians through, where they took eventual champion Germany to extra time in the Round of 16.
Halilhodzic’s masterful squad rotation and calming influence kept his team fresh and ready throughout their four games, and although the President of Algeria asked him to stay, the Bosnian manager has moved on to Trabzonspor. Algeria will do well to replace him adequately.
Honorable Mention: Jorge Luis Pinto, Costa Rica; Louis Van Gaal, Netherlands; Miguel Herrera, Mexico, Jose Pekerman, Colombia
Best Save – Guillermo Ochoa v. Brazil
Guillermo Ochoa had an out-of-body experience against Brazil in both team’s second group game of the tournament. His incredible save on Neymar’s header that was halfway across the goal-line by the time he started his dive was both jaw-dropping and a sign of things to come.
Honorable Mention: Tim Howard v. Belgium; Keylor Navas v. Greece; Manuel Neuer v. Brazil
Best Drama – Germany 7, Brazil 1
It will be the game from this World Cup that transcends generations. The next time Brazil host the event, they’ll be talking about this game – just as we talked about the host nation’s 2-1 loss to Uruguay from 1950 at length in this tournament.
We’ve just never seen a team in a position like Brazil – in the semifinal, the host, the favorite, and the most storied footballing nation ever – go to pieces like that. It was 5-0 inside the first half hour. At least Spain waited until the second half to fall apart, and had the decency to do it in their first game.
Brazil were always a fragile team living on emotion and adrenaline and a sense of duty. But when they came apart, they came apart spectacularly. The dam broke. And we’ll never forget it.
Honorable Mention: Luiz Suarez’s bite against Italy; Netherlands 5, Spain 1; John Brooks goal against Ghana; Georgios Samaras penalty against Ivory Coast; Silvestre Varela equalizer against USA; Tim Krul against Costa Rica; Mario Gotze winner against Argentina.
Best Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer, Germany
Honorable Mention: Tim Howard, USA; Keylor Navas, Costa Rica; Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico, Jasper Cillessen, Netherlands
Best Defender – Mats Hummels, Germany
Honorable Mention: Ezequiel Garay, Argentina; Daley Blind, Netherlands; Ron Vlaar, Netherlands
Best Midfielder – Toni Kroos, Germany
Honorable Mention: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany; Sami Khedira, Germany; Javier Mascherano, Argentina
Best Forward – Neymar, Brazil
Honorable Mention: Arjen Robben, Netherlands; Thomas Muller, Germany; James Rodriguez, Colombia; Lionel Messi, Argentina
Best Commentator – Ian Darke
Honorable Mention: Jon Champion, Derek Rae
Best Venue – Rio
Honorable Mention: Cuiaba, Manaus, Natal, Sao Paulo