It's a cruel fate that football fans have to wait four years in between World Cups, but the 2014 edition more than justified such a waiting period. Drama, controversy, upsets and plenty of goals were on tap for the full month, culminating in one of the most exciting finals we've seen in years.
As shared by 8 Fact Football, this year's World Cup tied the record for most goals in a single tournament, set in 1998:
This is the 171st goal at 2014 World Cup, equalling the 1998 record.— 8 Fact Football (@8Fact_Footballl) July 13, 2014
Fans will now have to wait for another four years before the tournament rolls around again, but the good news is Russia 2018 has all of the ingredients to be even better than Brazil 2014.
Here are some of the top reasons why the next World Cup will blow the last one out of the water.
Germany's Golden Generation
Die Mannschaft may just have been one of the most deserving World Cup-winning teams we've ever witnessed. They dominated pretty much every match with attractive, attacking football and showed very few signs of weakness during the tournament.
They're also relatively young, and there seems to be a steady stream of fresh talent rising from the Bundesliga ranks every season. Bleacher Report's Ryan Bailey thinks the team is set up nicely for the future:
Manager Joachim Low told reporters the same thing, according to Sky Sports (for Fox Sports):
I think this title will give us a push for the future, we don't have many players in the squad above 30. Look at Gotze, (Thomas) Muller, (Mesut) Ozil and (Marco) Reus, who wasn't here - there are a lot of players who can still achieve a lot in their careers.
The Bundesliga has a huge influence on the team and the training the young players get; we had an extremely young team in South Africa in 2010.
[...]We created centres of excellence and I am grateful for the clubs who did that, this World Cup victory is a product of the excellent education and training in Germany.
Germany still have plenty of room for improvement (solving the striker conundrum, for one), but the amount of talent at Low's disposal is ridiculous. This team finally got over the hump, winning a major tournament. Every other team in football will be looking to unseat Die Mannschaft in 2018.
Top Teams Looking to Redeem Themselves
Brazil's semi-final thrashing at the hands of the Germans and Spain's abysmal showing during the group stages were undoubtedly the two biggest disappointments of the 2014 World Cup, with Italy's early exit a distant third.
These three teams have questions to answer, and plenty of time to do so. What they also have in common is that they are traditional hotbeds for talent.
The U21 teams for Spain and Italy are packed with young players hungry to prove themselves, and no single nation in football produces more top-class players than Brazil. These three traditional powerhouses will likely look very different in four years, and they'll have a chip on their shoulder.
Everybody loves a nice underdog story, but at the end of the day, fans want to see the very best players and very best teams do battle in the latter stages of the competition.
With these three teams gunning for redemption in Russia, that's exactly what we'll get.
More Experienced Dark Horses
The rise of James Rodriguez and success of Colombia was one of the best stories of the 2014 World Cup, and it didn't exactly come as a surprise. The South Americans were tipped as one of the top dark horses ahead of the tournament, and they didn't disappoint.
The same can be said for Belgium, who didn't look as dominant as people would have hoped but still made the quarter-finals in their first World Cup appearance since 2002.
The Netherlands exceeded all expectations by making it to the semi-finals with a very young and inexperienced squad. The USA didn't make it that far, but they too relied on younger players who grew rapidly during the tournament.
All these teams had one thing in common—a lack of big-stage experience. The 2014 World Cup was an invaluable learning experience for these teams, who can only improve going into the next major international tournament.
Looking at the last three teams to win the World Cup, they all had experience on their side. The Italians were led by a number of star players who disappointed in 2002 and 2004. Spain were perennial losers before their first title win in 2010 and the Germans gained tons of experience during their Euro 2012 run.
The 2014 dark horses set themselves up perfectly for the future, getting a taste of what it feels like to play at a World Cup. With that experience under their belts and four more years of development, these teams will be ready for fireworks in 2018.
Lionel Messi's Last Stand
The Argentine superstar will be 31 in 2018, and in all likelihood, the tournament will represent his last chance to win a World Cup in a leading role.
Players older than that have gone on to do great things, but Messi's size and style of play opens him up to a lot of abuse from defenders. He's been kicked in the shins, knees and ankles all his life, and sooner rather than later, his quickness will suffer because of it.
The Barcelona man came very close to lifting the World Cup on Sunday, and it would have been a fitting end to what was a great tournament from the Argentine captain. Whether you agree with his selection as Golden Ball winner or not, the fact remains that Argentina probably would not have made the final without him.
The Albiceleste have some young talent coming through the ranks to strengthen the squad (Juan Iturbe for one), and it is sorely needed. The 2014 Argentine squad overachieved tremendously, and changes will have to be made for the team to remain competitive in the near future.
But regardless of which 23 players make the trip to Russia, they will all be playing for Messi. One of the all-time greats will have one more chance at joining a truly elite club of players, making the 2018 World Cup even more special.