World Cup 2014: Winners and Losers from the Quarter-Finals
The 2014 FIFA World Cup’s four quarter-finals each featured something a little different.
France and Germany contested the iconic Maracana’s first-ever European derby in Friday’s early match, and a few hours later, Brazil and Colombia played the best game of the round in Fortaleza—a 90-minute war of attrition that put one of the world’s best players out of the tournament.
On Saturday, Argentina once again found a way to win against Belgium’s “Golden Generation” in Brasilia, and in the later kick-off, the Netherlands required penalties to see off Costa Rica, who had become the Cinderella story of the competition.
The quarter-finals also produced a few big-picture winners and losers. Following are four of each.
Winner: Feel-Good Stories That Fascinated Fans and Neutrals Alike
Despite going out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage, Colombia were given a hero’s welcome upon returning to Bogota on Sunday.
According to the Daily Mail, thousands of fans lined the streets of the city as Los Cafeteros were paraded in an open-top bus.
Although high-profile striker Radamel Falcao missed the entire tournament through injury, Colombia nevertheless played some of the best football in Brazil, and 22-year-old Monaco playmaker James Rodriguez vaulted himself into superstardom with six goals.
Writing about Rodriguez for One World Sports, Graham Ruthven noted:
Rodriguez is the pure playmaker South American soccer has been waiting for since the decline of Juan Roman Riquelme. Although Riquelme never had a goal threat like Rodriguez does.
At just 22-years-old Rodriguez will make an appearance on this stage again, but very few players have made this kind of impact on the World Cup.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, exceeded all expectations with a shock run to the last eight, beating Uruguay and Italy along the way.
“During this World Cup we have done very beautiful things that many people didn’t believe we could achieve,” remarked manager Jorge Luis Pinto following the Ticos' defeat to the Netherlands on penalties, as per The Independent. “We played against great powerhouses of football. We leave the tournament unbeaten.”
Loser: Officiating, Which Continues to Frustrate
During the group stage, botched offside calls threatened to become an unfortunate theme of the 2014 World Cup. During the quarter-finals, the referees themselves were generally found wanting in their performances.
“We had a penalty [not given] against Italy that was clear; we had a penalty [not given] against Greece, and we should have had two [against the Netherlands],” griped Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto on Saturday, according to Goal. “So the refereeing has not been very good.”
Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari went so far as to say the referees had allowed Neymar, his star forward, to be “hunted” over the course of the tournament.
“Everyone knows he’s going to be hunted. For three matches that has been happening,” the 65-year-old raged, as per the London Evening Standard. But, he conceded, “I think when the referee sees a replay of the game he will see some of our players being slightly tougher than they should have been.”
Winner: Louis Van Gaal, Who Is Mastering This World Cup
Louis van Gaal took most of the credit for the Netherlands’ 2-1 win over Mexico in the round of 16.
“Did you see what I did?” he asked reporters following the match, according to the Daily Mirror. “I first changed to a 4-3-3 and then we created a lot of opportunities with a shot on the post and a fantastic save from [Guillermo Ochoa]. Then I moved to plan B, and yes, I did that in the cooling break. That is a clever way of benefiting from those breaks.”
Then, in Saturday’s quarter-final win over Costa Rica, the Dutch manager withdrew number-one goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen in favour of Tim Krul with penalties looming. Krul made a pair of saves in the victory.
“We all thought Tim was the best ‘keeper to stop penalties,” revealed Van Gaal, according to the BBC. “He is taller and has a longer reach.”
If the Netherlands manage to go the distance at this World Cup, the repeated masterstrokes of the manager will have had a lot to do with it.
Loser: Belgium’s “Golden Generation”
In the end, the Golden Generation went out of the 2014 World Cup with nary a whimper.
Over the 90 minutes of their quarter-final defeat to Argentina, Belgium’s group of up-and-comers placed only a single shot on target as many of their key contributors went missing.
Romelu Lukaku, who had been expected to lead the attack, was a mere impact sub by the time Saturday’s match kicked off in Brasilia. While he played over half an hour at Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha, he touched the ball just nine times (statistics courtesy WhoScored.com).
But none of the Red Devils were as disappointing as Eden Hazard, who failed to make any sort of impact in Brazil.
Against Argentina, the Chelsea attacker was withdrawn with 15 minutes to play, having completed less than three-quarters of his passes while failing to take a single shot.
Winner: Lionel Messi, Who Is Rising to the Occasion
If there was ever a knock against Lionel Messi—and one would have to look far and wide to find it—it was that he had yet to replicate his club success at international level.
At this World Cup, however, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner has risen to the occasion for Argentina—not only providing offense in critical moments, but generally driving the team forward.
“Messi played a wonderful match,” remarked Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella following the 1-0 win over Belgium, according to Goal. “Every move he makes is a sign of hope for us. What he does is always decisive. It’s beyond scoring goals.”
Should the Albiceleste go on and lift the trophy on July 13, Messi will almost certainly have put himself in the “best ever” conversation, if he hasn’t already.
Loser: Injuries, Which Claimed Neymar and Angel Di Maria
Brazil will be without their best player on Tuesday against Germany; Argentina will be without their most important linking midfielder on Wednesday against the Netherlands.
The quarter-final round of the 2014 World Cup saw both Neymar and Angel Di Maria succumb to injuries that will sideline them for the remainder of the competition.
Neymar, who suffered a fractured vertebra when Colombia’s Juan Zuniga dug a knee into his back, has since put on an optimistic face, saying his dream of winning the World Cup “continues.”
“I’m certain my teammates will do everything so my dream, which is to be a champion, comes true,” he remarked, as per the BBC.
Di Maria, meanwhile, picked up a muscle tear in his thigh against Belgium and was replaced by Enzo Perez.
Prior to the injury, the 26-year-old had picked up an assist on Gonzalo Higuain’s eventual winner. He also scored the only goal in his side’s round-of-16 win over Switzerland.
Winner: The Semi-Finals, Featuring Both Brazil and Argentina for the First Time
Despite possessing two of the most impressive pedigrees in international football, Brazil and Argentina have never graced the semi-final round of a World Cup in the same tournament.
That’s about to change, as the two South American powers will look to set up a hugely-anticipated final when they face their next opponents on Tuesday and Wednesday.
First up will be Brazil, who will be without both Neymar (injured) and Thiago Silva (suspended) against Germany in Belo Horizonte.
The next day, Argentina will look to progress to a first final in 24 years when they meet the Netherlands in Sao Paulo.
Loser: The Quality of Football, Which Has Suffered Since the Group Stage
The group stage of the 2014 World Cup featured shock, awe and goals, goals and more goals.
The term “This World Cup!” became popular on Twitter as fans throughout the world were treated to some of the best football in a generation.
Then came the round of 16 and some very cagey knockout matches. Colombia’s 2-0 win over Uruguay and the Netherlands’ come-from-behind victory over Mexico were decent fare, but overall the eight matches lacked the oomph of the group stage.
The quarter-finals, however, were cagey, low-scoring and, at times, tedious.
Germany’s 1-0 win over France was especially disappointing, and it took penalties to complete 120 minutes of scoreless football between the Netherlands and Costa Rica.
Over the next few days, the World Cup will serve up a pair of potentially tasty semi-finals. Here’s hoping they live up to the billing.