Sports Commentary: "It started with a flop"
MANAGING SPORTS EDITOR
It started with a flop and ended with a flip. From Fred’s dive in the opening game to Miroslav Klose’s front flip following his team’s final victory, the World Cup had it all. Over the course of 31 days this summer, soccer’s biggest event demanded the world’s attention. Let’s look back and the best and the worst of the 2014 tournament:
1) The Bite
What’s a World Cup without a few defining moments of madness? In 1998, for example, David Beckham saw red for kicking out at an opponent. Then there was Cristiano Ronaldo’s scandalous wink after successfully lobbying for Wayne Rooney to be sent off in the 2006 quarterfinals. Of course, the 2006 tournament also featured Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt. Trumping all of these moments, however, was what transpired in the group stage matchup between Italy and Uruguay. A must-win game for both teams saw Uruguay emerge victorious thanks to a late goal, but the real story centered on Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. The mercurial striker––who has a history of sinking his teeth into opponents––claimed to have slipped and fallen teeth first onto Chiellini’s shoulder. Unfortunately for Suarez, FIFA wasn’t sympathetic to his toothache and issued a four-month ban from soccer.
2) European Powerhouses (Germany excluded)
Yes, Germany won it all, but European counterparts and fellow perennial contenders crashed and burned out of this year’s World Cup. Let’s start with Italy. Drawn into a difficult group including England, Uruguay and tournament dark horse Costa Rica, the 2006 champions started well enough. They defeated England 2-1. The sweltering heat and humidity in that first game appeared to take its toll on the team as they dropped their next two and were eliminated.
Next we have England, whose entire World Cup lasted a grand total of six days. After two losses and a draw, the team didn’t even get the chance to lose on penalty kicks, exiting in the group stage instead. Though much of the blame was placed (unfairly) on Wayne Rooney, the biggest issue for the English was tactics. Coach Roy Hodgson employed a 4-2-3-1. The formation left gaping holes in the English midfield, leaving the country to wonder how a team with so much talent could be coming home so soon.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the reigning champions, Spain. They had a good run, winning the European championship in both 2008 and 2012 and raising their first ever World Cup trophy in between. That said, the glory days are definitely behind them. The aging squad opened against the Netherlands, in a rematch of the 2010 final. What most expected to be a good matchup quickly turned into a massacre, as the Dutch hammered the Spanish 5-1. They lost their next match to Chile and then won a meaningless game against a depleted Australian side before quietly exiting the tournament.
Yes, they’re the obvious choice as the reigning world champions, but the Germans did something truly special. Employing a mix of promising youngsters, Thomas Müller and Mario Götze, and celebrated veterans, Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm, they fought their way out of the group of death, demolished the host nation and took care of Messi and company to claim the title. They were the San Antonio Spurs of the tournament, playing as a team, each player executing their role to perfection. With an unmatched youth system and a core group of young talent, they look poised to rival Spain’s historic winning streak.
The aforementioned Brazil that lost 7-1 to Germany in the semifinals? Yes, that Brazil. Sure, their World Cup ended with two straight losses in which they were outscored 10-1. However, in a larger sense, Brazil delivered a World Cup worthy of all the hype. In the months leading up to the tournament, the nation was plagued by concerns over unfinished stadiums, riots and traffic. Instead, fans were treated to an incredible experience. The 2014 World Cup was a huge success, putting to rest all pre-tournament doubts and giving us a preview of what’s to come in the 2016 Olympics.