2014 World Cup XI of the Biggest Scapegoats of the Finals
With just the final two matches of the 2014 FIFA World Cup left to play, 30 teams have seen their hopes of lifting the trophy extinguished in a variety of manners along the way.
While some nations went further than others—even further than their own expectations might have allowed for pre-tournament—others will have exited earlier than what was seen as a minimum requirement, and the inevitable blame game will follow.
Here we look at a World Cup XI comprised of individuals who will be (or have already been) labelled as a big part of the reason for their respective nations' downfalls. Judge for yourself if the scapegoat label is harsh or fair in each case.
GK: Jasper Cillessen, NED
Eyebrows were raised when Tim Krul came on as a substitute for Netherlands in the 120th minute of their quarter-final against Costa Rica, but the backup goalkeeper saved two penalties to send his side through.
Again going to spot-kicks in the semis, regular starter Jasper Cillessen kept his place this time—but as the sides stepped up to take their penalties, commentators, social media accounts and fans alike started reminding everybody that this keeper had never saved a penalty in his life.
He came close once or twice, but that record continued, with Cillessen squirming about on his goal line as the ball beat him every time, and Netherlands went out.
RB: Juan Zuñiga, COL
Juan Zuñiga might not have been directly responsible for Colombia exiting the tournament, but he has been roundly vilified for robbing the host nation of their star attraction.
Zuñiga fouled Neymar in the quarter-final clash, resulting in a fractured spine vertebra for the Brazilian forward, ruling him out of the semi-final.
As per BBC Sport, Neymar was left less than impressed with the dangerous challenge.
I don't hate him, I don't hold a grudge, but I don't feel anything. It's difficult to talk about a move that ended happening in such an important moment of my career. I won't say he came to injure me—I don't know what was going on in his head —but everyone who understands football can see that it wasn't a normal challenge.
DC: David Luiz, BRA
Speaking of Brazil, their own catastrophic semi-final performance seemed to consistently come back to one man in particular: stand-in captain David Luiz.
His roving, ill-disciplined performance was the worst imaginable response to the absence of usual enforcer Thiago Silva, with Germany running riot through the middle as a result.
Luiz's international career won't be over as a result of it, but in such a high-profile match, he cannot complain at being seen as the biggest reason for the host nation's capitulation.
DC: Gerard Pique, ESP
While Brazil reached the last four, reigning champions Spain were out after only two matches.
Gerard Pique's appalling defensive performance in the opening match left him sidelined for the next two group games, and he faces an uphill battle to regain his place in the team once the rebuild begins.
While other senior players kept their place, Pique was immediately marginalised and was seen as an example of the lack of hunger and ability the squad needed to retain their trophy.
LB: Marcelo, BRA
David Luiz wasn't the only Brazil defender to come under close scrutiny: Left-back Marcelo was heavily criticised for his performances during the World Cup as a whole, as well as against Germany.
Continually out of position, a total failure to stop the ball coming in from the left and plenty of moves coming down his flank saw him endure a torrid evening in the semi-finals.
Marcelo could be one of those who misses out on the third-place match as a result.
CM: Steven Gerrard, ENG
England crashed out at the group stage after two defeats in their first two games, with captain Steven Gerrard bearing the weight of criticism afterwards.
He was involved in two crucial instances in the second defeat: a missed tackle in midfield and a backward header which he won—but both of which ended in Luis Suarez scoring for Uruguay.
As the experienced leader on the field with over a century of caps, there were calls immediately afterward for the team to incorporate younger players, and Gerrard started the final group game as a sub—though his replacement was the even older Frank Lampard.
CM: Michael Bradley, USA
USA made it through a tough group, but key midfielder Michael Bradley was roundly criticised for having had a very poor impact on the team throughout.
He gave away the ball in the closing stages of the group game against Portugal, resulting in USA letting a lead slip with an injury-time equaliser for the European side.
Bradley's only real involvement came late on against Belgium in the round of 16, but by then it was too late as the States went out in extra time.
CM: Wesley Sneijder, NED
Wesley Sneijder was one of the world's best players four years ago as Netherlands reached the final, with Sneijder key to much of their best work, even scoring to beat Brazil along the way.
This time around he has been a far less-involved character, despite starting every game.
His ineffectual performance against Argentina in the semi-finals was summed up when he stepped up to take a vital penalty kick in the shoot-out—and saw his effort saved.
FW: Giovanni Sio, CIV
Ivory Coast were within a minute or so of progressing second in their group and making the knock-out stages of the World Cup, but substitute Giovanni Sio ensured that wouldn't happen.
Only a few minutes after coming on, he was chasing back inside his own penalty area and conceded a needless foul, giving Greece a stoppage time penalty.
They scored, they went through and Ivory Coast were out—and Sio's only contribution in the finals was to ensure that was the case.
FW: Luis Suarez, URU
Luis Suarez missed Uruguay's first game through injury, came back to score twice in the second game and then helped them beat Italy to progress to the round of 16—but he played no further part thereafter.
In the match against the Italians, Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder, landing himself a four-month ban in the process.
As he missed the round of 16 game against Colombia, Uruguay were hugely blunted in attack without him, rarely threatened their South American rivals and exited tamely.
FW: Fred, BRA
We finish up with another Brazilian, with Fred seeing himself booed off the pitch on a number of occasions, notably against Germany in the semi-finals—the game when he probably had the least fault of all.
Even so, despite starting every match, Fred managed just one goal and 12 shots from his six games, failing to provide the foil for the likes of Neymar and co. that was required. The service to him wasn't great, but neither was the striker's own output when he was in possession.
A dodgy penalty won and a close-range tap-in aside, his contribution was minimal, and the home fans were glad to see him subbed off in almost every match.