10 Most Boring Games of the 2014 World Cup
After the first few rounds of games at the 2014 World Cup, many folks were hailing it as the best tournament in recent memory. There were goals galore, tiki-taka had been dethroned by exciting counter-attacking play and everything seemed wonderful.
With hindsight, however, the optimism seems a little misguided. As the knockout rounds grew closer, many games unfolded as tense, defensive affairs. And by its conclusion, World Cup fans had sat through more than one game that felt like a war of attrition.
Here are the top 10 most boring games from the tournament, each of which is more frustrating and sleep-inducing than the last...
10. Costa Rica 0-0 England
England's final game of Group D was a dead rubber, with all but the slimmest of mathematical possibilities preventing them from progressing. Opponents Costa Rica had already ensured qualification, so this match in Belo Horizonte was never destined to be a classic.
England made nine changes from the side that lost to Uruguay, giving the likes of Luke Shaw and Ross Barkley a start. The Three Lions certainly created more chances than a pretty ineffective Costa Rica side, but most of them fell to Daniel Sturridge—he wasted them.
It was a drab encounter, which gave no rewards to fans who had opted to watch it over Uruguay's bite-filled victory over Italy.
9. Netherlands 3-0 Brazil
Is there any game in football that's more pointless than the World Cup third-place playoff?
It's not often that a game with three goals can be classed as "boring," but this encounter in Brasilia earned that description, thanks in part to its meaningless nature.
Before the game, Louis van Gaal had already stressed that he thought it was pointless, while Brazil were still licking the wounds inflicted by Germany in the semi-final and pining for Neymar (while inexplicably naming him on the substitutes' bench).
The result was a low-paced match between a very poor and disorganised Brazil side and a reasonably good Dutch team that didn't exactly have to fire up all the cylinders to earn a comfortable win.
8. Russia 0-1 Belgium
I was lucky enough to obtain a ticket to the Group H match between Russia and Belgium, held on a blisteringly hot afternoon at Rio's Maracana stadium.
Imagine my glee at the prospect of seeing Belgium's bevy of Premier League stars take on the Russian Premier League's finest at one of the most iconic venues in sport. Then imagine my lack of glee after sitting through 87 minutes of drab, uneventful and attack-free football.
It was at the 87-minute mark that I cut my losses and headed for the exit to avoid the public-transport crush, meaning I narrowly missed the only eventful part of the game, the winning goal from Belgium substitute Divock Origi.
There were just five total shots on target during the match, per BBC Sport. With the talent at their disposal, Belgium should have been ashamed of this performance.
Fabio Capello, meanwhile, will have Russia's elected government to answer to.
7. Ecuador 0-0 France
In the final round of Group E matches, Ecuador needed a two-goal win over France in order to join them in the knockout stages.
Former Brazil midfielder Juninho told BBC Sport that he expected the Ecuadorians to show "character and courage" in the game, but they did no such thing. Reinaldo Rueda's side showed little spirit and didn't really show conviction until the dying minutes, when they actually decided to bring a striker on. France, meanwhile, were fairly happy to play for the draw.
With qualification at stake and nothing left to lose, it was shocking to see such a dreary effort from the South Americans.
6. Honduras 0-3 France
Having witnessed Honduras kick Brazil around the field in a friendly in Miami last November, I felt pretty confident they would favour physicality over finesse and talent at the World Cup.
The proverbial leopard did not change its spots, as Honduras offered very little besides brute force and uninspiring play. Their most insipid game came against France, who didn't take long to expose the wide gap in class between the two sides.
Karim Benzema may have netted a brace—and forced an own goal that saw the first implementation of goal-line technology—but this was no classic.
5. Russia 1-1 South Korea
Russia's second entry into this list is their lifeless tie with South Korea in Cuiaba.
Much like Fabio Capello's 2010 England World Cup side, his Russia team were not a lot of fun to watch, and nowhere was this more clear than their bout with South Korea.
There was very little action of consequence until goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev spilled Keun-Ho Lee's shot into his own net. That howler was followed up six minutes later by Aleksandr Kerzhakov's messy equaliser.
It's no coincidence that both these teams were eliminated and both faced the wrath of their people upon their respective returns.
4. Argentina 0-0* Netherlands
Coming hot on the heels of one of the most incredible World Cup games of all time—Germany's annihilation of Brazil—much was expected of the Netherlands' semi-final clash with Argentina.
The Dutch had shown plenty of attacking verve in the group stage, and Argentina boasted some of the best forwards at the tournament, so goals might have been expected.
But sadly, there weren't any.
Around 20 minutes into this game in Sao Paulo, it became depressingly obvious that we would be treated to 120 minutes and a penalty shootout.
Neither team could take their chances in the final third, Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben were closed out of the game and both teams set up defensively, presumably in an attempt to avoid a Brazil-style shellacking.
When it came to the shootout, Louis van Gaal didn't even give us the psychological thrill of switching out his goalkeeper.
The quality of football might have been higher than some games ranked lower in this list, but one would expect so much more from these two teams.
3. Costa Rica 0-0* Greece
After proving to be one of the breakout teams of the tournament by topping Group D, many were backing Costa Rica to overcome Greece and make the quarter-finals. The Central Americans managed this, but only after a penalty shootout and some excruciatingly dull football.
Greece are never very much fun to watch, and they ground out their traditional defensive tosh for the first hour of this game. The Costa Ricans weren't much better, managing just one shot on target throughout the entire game, per BBC Sport.
When a generous five minutes of extra time failed to produce a winner, neutral fans around the world collectively groaned at the prospect of an extra 30 minutes.
To be fair, extra time was more exciting and there were some fine attempts in the shootout, but it was not nearly enough to class this game as "interesting."
2. Iran 0-0 Nigeria
There were no goalless games or draws until Iran met Nigeria in the 13th game of the tournament. Apparently, both sides conspired to try to kill the 2014 World Cup's reputation for thrilling football by playing out a dreadful 92 minutes.
After a relatively interesting opening 10 minutes, Iran dug their heels firmly in their own half and defended tirelessly, while Nigeria seemed to forget how to play the game entirely.
The Iranians were clearly playing for a point and banking on beating Bosnia in the next game, while Nigeria were not composed enough to break them down.
There had been 41 goals in the opening 12 games of the World Cup, but only five shots on target in this entire game, per BBC Sport.
1. Japan 0-0 Greece
Ladies and gentleman, we have reached the zenith of World Cup boredom.
Greece's strategy for this game appeared to be twofold: defend doggedly and try to get away with as many fouls as possible. When captain Konstantinos Katsouranis was sent off for his second yellow card just before half time, both strategies became even more apparent.
Despite enjoying 74 percent of possession, the Japanese were too feckless to do anything with it. So, the viewer ended up with a mid-stage group game with nothing at stake between two sides who didn't have the desire or ability to get three points.
It was 90 minutes none of us will ever get back.