25 Reasons Why 2014 World Cup Was the Best Ever

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2014

25 Reasons Why 2014 World Cup Was the Best Ever

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    Germany became World Cup champions for the fourth time in their history on Sunday evening, rounding off the competition with glory and helping the 2014 tournament cement its place as the best World Cup of all time.

    But as is the case with any major international competition, it wasn't all about the destination, but very much about the journey and how we made our way to the Maracana final.

    Perhaps it was the disappointment of 2010 that helped set a lower bar for this latest contest, but the 2014 tournament was spectacular in so many ways, going further than any expectations we might have held.

    Of course, it's only a snapshot of the entertainment, but we've compiled the 25 biggest reasons as to precisely why that is. Feel free to make your own suggestions as to why Brazil laid on such a footballing feast in the forum below.

1. Goals, Goals and More Goals

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    Defending at its best is all well and good, but when getting down to brass tacks, all fans really want to see is goals en masse, and in that, this summer's World Cup delivered.

    Mario Goetze's 113th-minute winner against Argentina in the final was the 171st of the 2014 World Cup, a joint-high record, tying with France 1998 as the biggest producer of scoring in the tournament's history.

    The 1998 competition (6) is also the only other competition to see more own goals than were scored in Brazil (5), while 32 goals scored by substitutes is a record of its own.

2. Underdogs Rising

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    Underdog stories are always something to expect at a World Cup, but until the stories of David getting the best of Goliath actually unfold, they're largely impossible to predict. 

    This year, the biggest surprises for some will have been Costa Rica's mighty run to the quarter-finals, Greece making it to the Round of 16 for the first time in their history, not to mention Algeria's near beating of eventual champions Germany, also in the last 16.

    These tales show one of the most enamouring factors of the World Cup, the notion that even the biggest talents on the globe, when paired together, can be overcome by will and determination, with a little luck going a long way.

    And even the most bitter supporters can find themselves jumping on the bandwagon of these minnows, with Costa Rica in particular drawing the gaze en route to forcing the Netherlands to penalties, losing out in tear-jerking fashion.

3. Favourites Falling

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    And just as much as we love to get behind the often bullied, it's only human nature to take a sad form of delight when football's bullies fail to live up to expectations.

    Title defenders Spain always ran the risk of not progressing from Group B, but La Furia Roja's 5-1 defeat to the Dutch in their opening fixture forced the statement that their time as world beaters may well be over.

    Chile pounced to take their place, much like Costa Rica did in Group D at the expense of both Italy and England, knocking two past World Cup winners out of the running as they emphatically topped their pool.

    The United States also took huge satisfaction in managing to beat Portugal and Ghana to a place in the round of 16, making their way out of a sample of teams that, prior to the tournament, were seen as deadly competition.

4. Gold-Standard Goalkeeping

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    We don't want it to reach the point where it gets in the way of our goalscoring exploits, but fine goalkeeping is something else that always goes down a treat on the biggest football stage of all.

    And in Brazil, we saw numerous unsuspecting heroes pop up between the posts, including Mexico's Guillermo Ochoa, Costa Rica's Keylor Navas and Chile's Claudio Bravo.

    It's indicative that the transfer market has responded to the trio's performances in kind, too, with the latter, Bravo, recently penning a deal at Barcelona.

    Navas, meanwhile was being linked with a move to Bayern Munich, per Marca, while Ochoa, a free agent after being released by Ajaccio, is quoted by Sky Sports as having a host of options laid in front of him.

    I have received several proposals. They are from French teams and others from Europe. But it’s still not the moment to decide. I am going to analyse everything and take my time. So, I am going to enjoy this spare time and, in two weeks, when I have taken a decision, I will let the press know.

    It all depends on the team and where it gets presented. But I will go there being convinced of my decision, being happy, and obviously with the idea of playing.

    Of course, the big guns came to play, too, with Argetnina's Sergio Romero, Tim Howard of the U.S.A. and of course Golden Glove winner Manuel Neuer each doing superbly to keep their lines intact at times.

    More on the Germany No. 1 later, though.

5. Tactical Technicians

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    In the modern game, we scrutinise tactics and formation in a more widespread fashion than ever, with social media, technological advancements and unquenchable curiosity creating the perfect blend for the armchair manager.

    However, the real tactical talents very much showed who they were on the sidelines of Brazil's best venues, and it's for this reason that many of the "smaller" nations were able to excel as they did.

    Behind Chile's run to the round of 16 was a malleable, flowing formation that Jorge Sampaoli had perfected given the players at his disposal, a fast, furious counter-attacking method suiting them to a tee.

    Jorge Luis Pinto showed that there certainly is offensive fun to be had even with a five-man defence, and it may have gotten them further were it not for an equal genius blocking their path, in the form of one Louis van Gaal.

    And we complete such a conversation with a mention of Joachim Low, whose Germans finally lived up to their potential, utilising a bevy of midfield-enthused strategies along the way.

    Granted, Low had as fine a selection of playing talent under his command as has ever been seen, but then coaches with a similarly bright pool have come undone countless times in the past.

6. Germany a Joy

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    It's an awfully satisfying feeling when one can proclaim that the right team won this World Cup, for it's as saddening as it is surprising when the glory goes to those undeserving of its gold.

    From start to finish, Die Mannschaft encouraged The Beautiful Game in its purest sense, always looking for the result first, but also maintaining a priority in entertainment, too.

    It all began with a 4-0 thumping of Portugal, and although a 2-2 draw with Ghana followed up by an edgy 1-0 win over the United States weren't as open affairs, not once did the side look incapable of triumph.

    Low learnt from his mistakes, as did the players, and what followed was a dominant surge through the knockout stages, their closest moments coming in the 2-1 extra-time victory over Algeria.

    As far away from "parking the bus" as one can get, this German outfit are fully deserving champions, the likes of which even Argentina can't deny.

7. Europe Triumphant at Last

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    National teams from UEFA have now won three consecutive World Cups (Italy, Spain and Germany) for the first time in history, and the continent couldn't be prouder.

    However, the significance of this particular accolade is that it came from within the Americas for the very first time, a European outfit having finally managed to win a World Cup across the pond.

    Temperature, humidity and climate were always going to play their part in who would claim silverware in Brazil, but even the forces of nature couldn't stop this Germany, a wonderfully apt illustration.

    At the eighth time of trying (fifth in South America), Europe has finally claimed top spot in the Americas, signalling that home advantage under such circumstances does indeed only count for so much.

8. Brazil's Law-Defying Exit

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    Will Brazil ever recover from their debilitating 7-1 semi-final defeat at German hands?

    Logic dictates they will, yes, but it will be a long recovery that Luiz Felipe Scolari will have no control over, The Guardian having since announced that he and the Selecao have parted ways.

    Neymar and Thiago Silva were admittedly known to be huge absences for the home team, but it wasn't until Germany's fifth had been scored with less than half an hour played that reality really started to settle in.

    On second thought, even then it was impossible to believe; the pin hasn't dropped just yet.

    This was a Brazil team tipped since the beginning to win in their own backyard, who last year won a Confederations Cup in rousing fashion, boasting a fine sample of stars in their squad.

    However, in a variety of ways, all those preconceptions were dismissed one by one, and the Dutch even helped further devaluate the Brazilians with a 3-0 thumping in the third-place playoff.

    In any case, the 7-1 scoreline, the biggest margin of victory ever in a World Cup semi-final, will be remembered throughout the ages.

9. Vanishing Foam

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    One small step for man, one giant leap for the egos and thirsts for power of referees across the land.

    Now, officials have a very tangible weapon with which they can run their rule, and vanishing foam has added another intriguing aspect to this sport of ours that will leave some pondering: "Why on Earth didn't we think of that sooner?"

    Did it work? Yes and no.

    Under the right referee, players were forced to hold their distance and the temporary lines drawn to indicate where free-kick walls could line up did just that.

    However, encroaching players and a reluctance to enforce the rules sometimes made the new innovation laughable, as Nigel de Jong pointed out against Argentina, per Bleacher Report UK:

    No amount of vanishing spray can hold Nigel de Jong back. https://t.co/rjEMV9HXjY #ned #arg

    — Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) July 9, 2014

    It will take some time to get used to such a new method of running the rule on free kicks, but on the whole, vanishing spray went down a treat.

10. Goal-Line Technology

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    If vanishing spray added a touch more legitimacy to the sport, then the addition of goal-line technology proved to be entirely more impressive for the way it improves matters.

    France striker Karim Benzema became the first player ever to have a goal decided by this method in Les Bleus' group-stage opener, setting the tone for what would be spotless use of the system.

    After hitting the post, Benzema's shot took a nick off Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares, and without the technology now summoning him to award the goal, referee Sandro Ricci may have been in some doubt about what to do.

    The one minor objection to FIFA would be that we don't necessarily need to see goal-line confirmation of every clear-cut goal that even those in Row Z could tell crossed the line.

11. Golden Boy Gets the Golden Boot

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    The kid did good; James Rodriguez shone as the pinnacle of Colombia's dazzling assault on the World Cup this summer, and were it not for a stubborn Brazil display in the quarter-finals, they may have been permitted to go further.

    However, Rodriguez does come away from the tournament with an improved sense of renown and a Golden Boot to boot, scoring six times to edge Lionel Messi and Thomas Mueller.

    The Monaco attacker became the first player to score in each of their first career World Cup appearances since Teofilo Cubillas of Peru did across the 1970 and 1978 World Cups.

    Not only was the 23-year-old stellar in the goal count, but the manner in which he scored those six, not to mention creating a wealth of opportunities for his fellow Colombians, was remarkable.

    A long-range half-volley against Uruguay will undoubtedly be counted as the pick of the bunch and arguably the best of the entire competition.

12. Doping Tests a Bitter Pill to Swallow

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    Doping is prohibited in football to produce the fairest and best contest possible, with the biological passport introduced for the 2014 World Cup, along with post-match blood and urine samples for random players.

    It's an understandable precaution for FIFA to take, but the system has proven to be far from perfected over the past month as anti-doping laws sometimes got in the way of the overall spectacle.

    For example, Lionel Messi was overjoyed to lead Argentina to victory over the Netherlands in the semi-finals, but was then prevented from celebrating with his team after being pulled to one side for testing.

    Costa Rica were in a more intense furore following their 1-0 win over Italy in the group stages, with Ian Herbert of The Independent reporting that seven players were called in for doping tests following the result.

    Yes, those culprits, however few and far between, must be caught, but let us not take away from the magic altogether.

13. Social Media Wonderland

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    The social media boom was well underway by the time South Africa played host to the last World Cup in 2010, but this year's extravaganza embraced the format on a whole new level.

    The evolution of statistical analysis provided by Opta, as well as websites such as Squawka and WhoScored, means we can go into the game with more detail than ever before, but that's only the tip of the iceberg.

    Should a rare incident occur, one could bet that a mass meme reaction wasn't far behind for our comedic pleasure. The usage of an application such as Vine means that those must-watch moments were available to those unfortunate enough to miss it the first time around.

    But most important of all is the fact that even if one didn't have access to a fixture at all, social media would lend a hand in placing you almost at the epicentre of the drama.

    Although there's no substitute for the real thing.

14. Neymar's Thespian Drama

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    It went way beyond anything it should have become, but Brazil mourned the injury of Neymar as if there were a death in the family, with Selecao sentiment from that point on dedicated to their absent poster child.

    One can't help but feel that were a superstar of similarly symbolic status from another nation ruled out of the competition, the reaction would have been much more dignified, irrespective of how essential he might be considered.

    Former manager and ex-Brazil international Dunga is quoted by Nikolas Postinger in giving his assessment of the ordeal:

    Dunga—"The biggest mistake Brazil made was reacting to Neymar's injury as if he'd died. It was a terrible way to react. The worst mentality"

    — Nikolas Postinger (@nikpostinger) July 13, 2014

    Ultimately, Brazil were shown to be somewhat shallow in attack without their gem, but it by no means helped their cause to react as though he were gone, never to return.

    Nevertheless, it made for alluring, at times cringe-worthy viewing.

15. Extra Time in Excess

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    Sixteen games were played in the knockout stages, eight of which ended up going to extra time, which is quite an alarming number.

    Thankfully, only two of those eight came thanks to goalless scorelines being present when the full-time whistle was blown, and it certainly helped the drama of the entire tournament.

    Half of those fixtures that went to extra time proceeded to penalties, and it was a major relief for Goetze to score his tournament-winning goal in Rio de Janeiro, as it would have been something of a disappointment were the final to be decided via shootout.

    The main positive of extra time is that we of course get to see more football, but some was certainly easier to sit through than elsewhere (Netherlands and Argentina, we're looking at you).

16. Manuel Neuer

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    His displays were of mythological proportions at times, and so endearing was Manuel Neuer to watch that he deserves a commendation all of his own.

    Becoming the third German goalkeeper ever to win the award (Sepp Maier in 1974 and Oliver Kahn in 2002), the Bayern Munich No. 1 grabs a deserved Golden Glove award for his efforts in Brazil, keeping four clean sheets from his seven appearances.

    However, such a tally isn't the only criteria taken into account with the Golden Glove, and it was Neuer's outlandish need to go above and beyond normal duties that encouraged his peers most.

    Most memorable was the 2-1 win over Algeria in the round of 16, where he acted more like Franz Beckenbauer than Oliver Kahn, holding the highest of lines (by goalkeeping standards) to give his defence a springboard when pushing back up-field.

    However, at his tournament's core was a long line of magnificent shot stopping and a superb marshalling of his German defence, with Neuer setting a new standard to show what those between the posts are capable of.

17. What Venue Issues?

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    For months in the build-up to this summer's World Cup, there was the overriding concern that Brazil would not be ready to host the tournament, mainly because so many of the stadiums failed to meet their construction deadlines.

    But where there's a will, there's a way, and even with temporary seating used to satiate the problem, those issues swiftly subsided in place of what was occurring on the pitch.

    We mustn't forget what a spectacle this was, however. Back in May, The Guardian's Jonathan Watts reported that the worker death tally for the 12 stadiums had risen to eight, and it's increased since.

    Brazil will ultimately consider their competition a success, but those venues used still need more work done if the 2016 Olympic Games are to come off without a hitch.

18. Cameramen on as Fine a Form as Ever

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    It's been scientifically proven that if there's anything people love, it's football, those little umbrellas that go in your cocktail and attractive women being plastered all over one's television screen.

    Rio had all of that in excess, and the cameramen on hand were once again compliant in providing visuals of the most entertaining fans, but mainly it was the most aesthetically pleasing on display.

    And, really, it's a service to the people. After all, one lucky Belgian fan, Auxelle Despiegelaere, was fortunate enough to be handed a modelling contract by hair brand L'Oreal.

    Granted, she missed a trick by posting a photo on social media of her hunting trophy, thus having her contract extinguished, per The Telegraph, but you get the gist of just what opportunities are on hand for the most beautiful in attendance.

19. Prickly Pundits

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    British viewers can only hope that every nation has as wide and colourful an assortment of pundit figures as they do.

    Some provide the sort of in-depth and truly interesting analysis one dreams about, while others leave one wondering exactly how these figures, many of whom are ex-professionals, convinced an executive that they deserve to be on television.

    The BBC had the likes of Thierry Henry, Rio Ferdinand and Clarence Seedorf, and each were a joy to listen to in their spells, while ITV had the minds of Patrick Vieira, Lee Dixon and Martin O'Neill adding worthwhile discussion.

    It wasn't all great, though, and even the "professionals" among us get things wrong.

    The BBC's Mark Lawrenson was happy enough to put a dampener on anything that provided joy and happiness in Brazil, while Adrian Chiles led the ITV's coverage with some flagging form, at one point referring to Neil Lennon as a Scot—he's Northern Irish, by the way.

    The crowning moment, though, had to be Jonathan Pearce failing to grasp Benzema's goal-line technology finish, which was certainly in. Twitter responded.

    "In the UK they say it's 9.25pm, but here in Rio the clocks say 5.25! Serious questions to be asked about the technology."

    — Primly Stable (@PrimlyStable) June 15, 2014

    Jonathan Pearce and Martin Keown dissecting France's second goal. pic.twitter.com/iEAhoB3Q2g

    — Tony Mogan (@TonyMogan) June 15, 2014

    Jonathan Pearce has gone fully rogue Partridge. #WorldCup

    — boydhilton (@boydhilton) June 15, 2014

    Jonathan Pearce now back at his hotel, where the debate about the little light inside the fridge is expected to rage long into the night.

    — Michael Moran (@TheMichaelMoran) June 15, 2014

    Oh, Jonathan.

20. No Raining on This Parade

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    The sheer size of Brazil and the mass of playing locations at hand meant that weather, climate and temperature was known to be a significant variable come match days.

    Recife saw the worst of the downpours on the cusp of Germany and the United States' crucial Group G encounter, with Sportskeeda showing us the extent of the downpour:

    Doubts whether #GER vs #USA will kick-off on time as torrential rains flood streets of Recife. #FifaWorldCup pic.twitter.com/F1lXEq6POy

    — Sportskeeda (@Sportskeeda) June 26, 2014

    For a time, there will have been an air of sadness about the whole affair, but the truth is that it only succeeded in adding to the entertainment of the whole event.

    Cooling breaks were introduced in hotter climates to ensure players stayed hydrated under the Brazilian sun, and the overall mix of weather made for a another unpredictable factor on the pitch.

21. Vote Klose for 2018

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    It's official: At 36 years of age, Miroslav Klose has become the all-time leading goalscorer at the World cup finals, netting the 16th finish of his career to finally overcome Ronaldo's previous high of 15.

    The Lazio veteran hasn't been the most decorated figure at club level during his playing days, but there's something so synchronised about the striker when he laces up in international colours.

    What's more, Klose adds to his previous World Cup medals of silver and bronze, finally completing the collection with gold this time around, and you'd have to be a bitter character to not be overjoyed for him.

    He might be past his best, but Klose will be (only) 40 years old by the time Russia 2018 comes round, and if he'll have us, it would be a pleasure to see Joachim Low's legend attempt to extend his record.

22. The States Embrace Soccer Like Never Before

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    "We believe that we will win."

    That was the to-the-point and somewhat boring slogan that the U.S.A. dreamed up to base their World Cup run upon, but who are we to judge when it certainly seemed to work?

    The Americans made a run to the round of 16 before eventually bowing out to Belgium, but seeing Jurgen Klinsmann's men get the better of Ghana before drawing against Portugal showed us how deserving this nation was of its spot.

    At every major international tournament they're involved in, the U.S.A's "soccer" support inevitably seems to grow exponentially in size, and those who may not get as enthused about Major League Soccer somehow muster the means to get behind their national team.

    We're not complaining, though, as what followed was a passionate and whole-hearted backing of a team that needed it, and more importantly embraced it.

    One amazing moment that will go down in U.S. football history was to see John Brooks celebrate his late winner against the Black Stars, with The Guardian's Amy Lawrence capturing the moment he had dreamed about:

    USA rookie John Brooks had a dream about scoring the winner. Fabulous disbelief about his celebration. (Via @Cnyari) http://t.co/dU6VsuT4Z9

    — Amy Lawrence (@amylawrence71) June 17, 2014

    That's the sort of thing World Cup fantasies are based upon, and one can only imagine the amount of American children who will grow up inspired by that very moment.

23. Courting Controversy

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    What would a World Cup be without an abundance of controversies? Both matters on and off the pitch showed what a contentious playground football can be when housing some of the globe's finest talents under one roof.

    Sitting atop that number reigns Luis Suarez's biting offence on the shoulder of Italy's Giorgio Chiellini—incredibly the third of his career—which saw FIFA hand him a four-month ban from all playing activities.

    After Brazil's debatable opening victory over Croatia, it was supposed that the refereeing could be an issue in South America. But the officials were on good form for the most part, although a stricter enforcement on the vanishing foam would have been appreciated.

    Brazil also ran up their share of critics for attempting to see Juan Camilo Zuniga retroactively punished for his tournament-ending challenge on the spine of Neymar. 

    The forward's spinal problem caused enough of a stir as it was, but the hosts' thirst for vengeance on their Colombian foe spun out of control at times.

    And what better source of controversy than diving to add to the mix? With a World Cup at stake, the topic of simulation, over-exaggeration and any other method of deception became prevalent, with Arjen Robben constantly drawing attention, rightly or wrongly, for his alleged antics.

24. Cameroon Far from Being on Song

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    Cameroon were a shambles in every sense of the word at this year's World Cup, and the Indomitable Lions behaved more like the Susceptible Kittens during their Brazilian campaign.

    Unfortunately, money was the root of all their evils, too, both of the legal variety and possibly the not so legal, too. Long gone are the days when passion and heart were enough to inspire a team, now replaced by motivations of cash and appearance-related assets.

    As Glenn Moore of The Independent discusses, Cameroon's players almost refused to board the plane to Brazil over a payment dispute regarding how much they would be paid for their troubles.

    Considering some would wear the country's colours for free, it was a depressing sight, the likes of which will have encouraged many an aged viewer into drawls of "Not in my day..."

    And then there was the supposedly illegal—BBC Sport revealed that Cameroon officials were to investigate within their own camp concerning allegations of match-fixing, another terrible spin on a dismal tournament for the side.

    Team-mates were seen head-butting one another on the pitch and Alex Song contributed the nation's eighth red card at a World Cup finals for his elbow on Croat Mario Mandzukic.

    Paired with cousin Rigobert Song's tally of two, that trio of send-offs makes the Songs the dirtiest family in World Cup history.

25. We Want a Nice, Clean Fight

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    In the end, football is best played at its cleanest, and although the spice of overzealous contact can often add an intriguing aspect to affairs, the sport is better off with as little foul play as possible.

    Not since 1986 has a cleaner World Cup been seen, either, with this year's record of 10 red cards the lowest in 28 years—or seven tournaments.

    Fewer matches being played with either side possessing a man advantage means an overall fairer contest, and for the good of the sport, quality shone through.

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