25 Biggest Surprises of the 2014 World Cup
The 2014 FIFA World Cup was chock full of surprises, both good and bad.
There were teams that exceeded the wildest expectations, and others that crumpled under the weight of the occasion.
Several players enjoyed a breakout tournament while others barely made an impact.
Individual results, too, caught the eye—whether because of an upset or the sheer enormity of the scoreline.
Following are 25 of the biggest surprises from the past month.
25. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
But after a disappointing display against Algeria in the Red Devils’ World Cup opener, the 21-year-old was relegated to the role of “super-sub” for the remainder of the tournament.
Only, he was rarely ever “super.”
Following an inspired performance in extra time against the United States in the round of 16, he was a shadow against Argentina in the quarterfinals.
24. Amir Hossein Sadeghi, Iran
Iran were extremely difficult to break down during the group stage, and a lot of their resilience had a thing or more to do with Amir Hossein Sadeghi.
The 32-year-old defender, who plays his club football at Iranian outfit Esteghlal, was imperious in front of goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi, limiting the effectiveness of Nigeria’s Emmanuel Emenike and Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain in back-to-back matches.
23. Enner Valencia, Ecuador
Aficionados of Mexican and Ecuadorian club football won’t have been all that surprised by Enner Valencia’s performance at the 2014 World Cup, but other fans will have expected his namesake—Manchester United’s Antonio—to be the more impactful Valencia at the tournament.
It didn’t work out that way.
The 24-year-old forward, formerly of Emelec and Pachuca and set to sign for Premier League outfit West Ham United (per BBC Sport), scored La Tri’s only goal against Switzerland and then bagged a brace in a come-from-behind win over Honduras.
22. Ahmed Musa, Nigeria
Ahmed Musa went into the 2011 Under-20 World Cup as one of the African continent’s most promising prospects, and after scoring three goals for Nigeria, he put himself on CSKA Moscow’s radar for a January move.
But the 21-year-old’s most memorable match in his young career came against Argentina in Porto Alegre when he scored twice in the Super Eagles’ narrow 3-2 defeat to the eventual runners-up.
Italy’s path to the round of 16 was always going to be difficult given their tricky group, but as a country that has previously specialised in tournament expertise, they were nevertheless expected to cause a ripple or two in Brazil.
Instead, they went out of the competition rather meekly.
Following a 2-1 win over England in Manaus, the Azzurri lost 1-0 to Costa Rica in Recife before a crucial showdown with Uruguay in Natal.
Claudio Marchisio was controversially sent off at Arena das Dunas and his teammates struggled to make anything happen in the attacking third, as Italy’s World Cup campaign came to a premature close.
Ghana arrived at the 2014 World Cup as one of the African nations most expected to make an impact in Brazil.
Instead, they opened their schedule with a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to the United States, and, even after an impressive 2-2 draw with Germany, they continued to implode.
Star players Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari were sent home ahead of the Black Stars’ final Group G match against Portugal, which they lost 2-1.
The combination of Iran’s sturdy displays and the support of the nation’s vast diaspora made the Princes of Persia an easy team to cheer for during the group stage.
Following a scoreless draw with Nigeria in Curitiba, they pushed Argentina to the limit in Belo Horizonte before losing 3-1 to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Salvador.
18. Tim Cahill, Australia
Tim Cahill’s header from Ivan Franjic’s cross stood as Australia’s only goal in a 3-1 defeat to Chile, and five days later the New York Red Bulls attacker was at it again against the Netherlands.
Less than a minute after Robin van Persie had opened the scoring in Porto Alegre, Cahill scored a thunderbolt of a goal that restored level terms midway through the first half.
The Netherlands would go on to win 3-2, but not before another memorable Tim Cahill display for Australia had been committed to history.
Until the last possible moment, it looked as though Greece were headed out of the World Cup at the group stage.
Following a 3-0 trouncing at the hands of Colombia and an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Japan, the 2004 European champions went into their final Group C match with Ivory Coast needing nothing less than a win.
With the full 90 minutes having been played, Georgios Samaras won a penalty and then converted from 12 yards to put his side into the round of 16.
In the space of a few months, Mexico went from nearly missing out on the World Cup finals to becoming one of the competition’s feel-good stories.
After winning late against Cameroon in their Group A opener, El Tri played to a gutsy 0-0 draw against host nation Brazil before beating Croatia 3-1 in a match to determine second place in the bracket.
Then, against the Netherlands in the round of 16, they took the lead shortly after the restart before unravelling in the final few minutes in Fortaleza.
Portugal’s World Cup was an unmitigated disaster.
Following a 4-0 drubbing courtesy of Germany that saw defender Pepe sent off, they had to come from behind to earn a 2-2 draw with the United States and then struggled to beat an imploded Ghana.
Cristiano Ronaldo—clearly unfit—scored only a single goal in Brazil as his side crashed out of the competition.
14. Keylor Navas, Costa Rica
One of the top goalkeepers in La Liga last season, Keylor Navas was always expected to carry Costa Rica’s hopes into the 2014 World Cup.
But nobody could have foreseen the sort of impact the 27-year-old would make in Brazil.
After back-stopping his side to wins over Uruguay and Italy, and proving pivotal in a scoreless draw with England, Navas capped a spectacular tournament with an imperious performance against Greece in the round of 16 that included a save on Theofanis Gekas during the penalty shootout.
Coming into the 2014 World Cup, Algeria were one of the best-kept secrets in international football.
Far from the pragmatic and, at times, dirty team of the 2010 tournament, these Fennec Foxes played compelling football and got standout performances from the likes of Sporting Lisbon striker Islam Slimani.
Following a narrow defeat to Belgium in their Group H opener, they hammered South Korea and then drew against Russia to set up a showdown with Germany in the round of 16 that would go to extra time.
12. Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico
Guillermo Ochoa’s save on Neymar in Fortaleza has already been likened to Gordon Banks’ denial of Pele in 1970.
The Mexico goalkeeper enjoyed a career-defining few weeks at the 2014 World Cup, as he arrived at the tournament without a club following his exit from Ajaccio.
Heroic against Brazil, Croatia, and the Netherlands, it seems almost unreal that he was only restored to the No. 1 job in the few months before the competition.
11. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo's only goal came against Ghana when his side were already heading out of the competition.
Quite clearly unfit, the Real Madrid forward was a ghost against Germany and struggled to make an impact against the United States until setting up Silvestre Varela for a late equaliser.
At 29 years of age, the two-time Ballon d’Or winner will be 33 when the 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia.
10. Ron Vlaar, Netherlands
Among the many unlikely heroes for the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup was Ron Vlaar, who had arrived in Brazil following a difficult club campaign with Aston Villa.
But against some of the best players in the world the 29-year-old shone and never brighter than against Argentina in the second semifinal, in which he made a series of vital tackles and interventions on Lionel Messi.
Unfortunately, Vlaar missed the Netherlands first penalty against the eventual runners-up.
CONCACAF was one of the real winners, and true surprises, of the 2014 World Cup.
Whether it was Mexico drawing against Brazil and beating Croatia; the United States beating Ghana and drawing with Portugal; or Costa Rica progressing all the way to the quarterfinals, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football left an indelible mark on the competition.
8. Giancarlo Gonzalez, Costa Rica
Brightest among Costa Rica’s unlikely stars was a Colombus Crew defender.
The 6-foot-3 Giancarlo Gonzalez cast his shadow over Uruguay in an impressive 3-1 win to kick off the Ticos' World Cup campaign, and then he almost single-handedly man-marked Mario Balotelli out of the CONCACAF side’s 1-0 defeat of Italy.
And if that wasn’t enough, he also converted his penalty against Greece in the round of 16.
7. David Luiz, Brazil
For a time, it looked as though David Luiz was destined to become a legend within a legendary Brazil team.
Needless to say, things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
Following goalscoring performances against Uruguay and Colombia in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, the 27-year-old defender imploded against Germany and was one of the primary culprits in Brazil’s 7-1 defeat in the final four.
6. Javier Mascherano, Argentina
As Argentina progressed through the various rounds at the 2014 World Cup, it became clearer and clearer that Javier Mascherano was the key man for the Albiceleste.
Against Switzerland, the Barcelona midfielder kept Xherdan Shaqiri mostly at bay and then kept Kevin De Bruyne in his pocket against Belgium in the quarterfinals.
But his semifinal performance against the Netherlands was especially dominant, as he and midfield partner Lucas Biglia neutralised the dual threat of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.
In the end it was Mascherano, and not Lionel Messi, who best encapsulated Argentina’s entry at the 2014 World Cup.
Not much was expected of the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup.
Indeed, with Spain and Chile in their bracket it looked as though the three-time runners-up would struggle to simply get out of Group B.
They ended up winning it—trouncing Spain and beating Chile 2-0 along the way.
Daley Blind, Daryl Janmaat and Georginio Wijnaldum became just three unlikely heroes for the Dutch, who surpassed all expectations by eventually finishing third.
4. James Rodriguez, Colombia
The pre-tournament injury to Colombia striker Radamel Falcao ended up being a blessing in disguise for James Rodriguez.
In Falcao’s absence, Rodriguez was able to become his country’s talisman in Brazil, and, when all was said and done, he was the Golden Boot winner with six goals despite going out of the tournament at the quarterfinal stage.
3. Costa Rica
After falling behind to Uruguay in their first match of the 2014 World Cup, Costa Rica regrouped and went on one of the more memorable Cinderella-runs in recent tournament history.
Their 1-0 defeat of Italy caused shockwaves, and after topping the “Group of Death” they faced Greece in the round of 16.
It didn’t end there for the Ticos, who beat the European side on penalties before pushing the Netherlands to the limit in the quarterfinals.
Spain’s World Cup campaign was over almost as quickly as it started.
Having arrived in Brazil as defending world and European champions, La Furia Roja were humiliated 5-1 by a rampant Netherlands side and then lost 2-0 to Chile.
By the time they faced Australia on June 23, Spain’s Brazilian journey was over, and they said goodbye to a previously formidable group of players with a 3-0 victory over the Socceroos.
1. Germany 7, Brazil 1
Had Brazil lost 1-0 or 2-0 to Germany, the host nation might have still regarded their World Cup campaign as a success.
Apart from their own schedule, the tournament was an overall triumph, with infrastructure mostly sustaining the hordes of tourists and observers generally enjoying the fare on offer.
All that changed for the Selecao during a six-minute spell in Belo Horizonte, in which they were cut apart by a rampant Germany side that went on to inflict a record defeat on the five-time world champions.
And following the 7-1 loss was a 3-0 humiliation at the hands of the Netherlands in the third-place play-off.
In hindsight, despite progressing to the final four, Brazil’s World Cup was an on-pitch disaster.