Saturday 20 January 2018

Unforgettable tournament - even if you need to forget

No other tournament can stop traffic the way a World Cup can

Brazil's David Luiz after defeat to Germany
Brazil's David Luiz after defeat to Germany

Dion Fanning

Perhaps it's fitting in a country like Brazil which is driven by faith and superstition that this has been a tournament defined by iconography.

Brazil went down in Belo Horizonte holding Neymar's jersey as if it was Padre Pio's glove, driven to distraction by their own juju and unable to do anything to stop the rationality of Germany.

They had tried to draw strength from symbols just as Uruguay had channelled their anger into face masks when they went into their last 16 game against Colombia without Luis Suarez. In the Maracana dressing room, they laid out Suarez's kit as normal as if nothing had happened, as if their most important player had not sabotaged their World Cup by biting Giorgio Chiellini. Uruguay hoped they could lay out Suarez's kit and he would be there with them, driving them and their supporters, who made their anger clear at FIFA from behind thousands of Luis Suarez masks.

In the end, the relics didn't work and, on this final weekend, the day when Suarez chewed down on Chiellini feels an age away. In a World Cup, time speeds up and slows down simultaneously as each event makes the preceding event seem like ancient history.

For example, it is hard to believe England were even in the same tournament that included the knockout rounds. They could be said to have taken a refined strategy. They exited early, hoping that by the time the tournament ended their dismal failure would be forgotten, and it was an approach that worked well.

Few seemed bothered to ask if England's failure should result in some tough questions of the manager. Instead, it seems that the reasons for the failure had been decided long before the failure happened, namely that football is a risky business and the Premier League doesn't help.

Elsewhere, there were consequences. Italy went out thanks to their own lack of discipline, the unreliability of Mario Balotelli and the distraction caused by Suarez. Cesare Prandelli and the Italian Federation president Giancarlo Abete both announced their resignations when Italy failed to make it out of their group, which had become the story of Costa Rica.

Spain, too, were the other European Championship finalists who went home early, but their story was about a sad end. Holland would never reach the heights of their 5-1 victory in the opening Group B game in Salvador again, but it was the second game when Chile tore into them that demonstrated Spain's decline.

At that point, anything seemed possible. Chile were unable to exploit Brazil's weaknesses and, when they reflect on their World Cup, they will consider - as will Colombia - that they wasted the opportunity to make a statement, perhaps intimidated by the reality of playing Brazil in Brazil in the World Cup, a tournament which has always been about Brazil.

For a long time, it looked like this World Cup would be defined by a South American side, but if Joachim Löw's team triumph tonight, it will simply be another contradiction for the tournament to absorb and there have been plenty.

Portugal and Ronaldo left too, undone by Germany and Pepe in the first game and the rise of Jurgen Klinsmann's USA.

When the US took their last-16 game to Belgium, the world cheered the unlikely underdog, but they have shown they will not be underdogs for too long, and all they need is the discovery of one world-class player to advance even further.

Soon, they may be considered dark horses, something that did no good for Belgium, who arrived at the tournament being hailed for their brilliant, progressive ways. By the time they played Russia, people were having a rethink and, when they ended their quarter-final lumping the ball forward with increasing desperation, it looked like nobody would want to be called dark horses in the future.

They seemed to represent old, staid forces while Algeria and especially Costa Rica captured the possibility of this World Cup.

Holland made their journey to the semi-final difficult and a team which fails to score in four hours of knockout football can't have as many complaints as the Dutch had after their semi-final.

It was important, too, that Argentina made the final. The tournament needed a South American side, although they might feel differently in Brazil.

A European victory in a World Cup which has been shaped by the chaos and brilliance of the South American teams and the wonderful anarchy of Brazil seems likely unless Argentina can rise as they failed to do in the semi-final.

If the World Cup is to be remembered for any game, it will be for what happened on July 8 at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte.

Brazil's defeat was one of the defining games in the history of football, a defeat which may come to matter more to the losers than the winners.

A final surpassing any in recent memory could allow the 2014 World Cup to make a claim for greatness, but the absence of an epic game from the quarter-final stage onwards has weakened its claims.

Brazil v Germany was memorable for many reasons, but the World Cup has not produced that gripping contest between heavyweights.

It has, instead, been a tournament of great moments, a tournament which seemed to find something in the spirit of the country, a spirit which has found something meaningful in hosting the competition, despite the $11 billion cost and Brazil's failure.

This has been a tournament which allowed the world to lose themselves. There is no great side in this competition. Spain were untouchable four years ago and there was a time when each World Cup would have three or four outstanding sides.

Yet, it was a World Cup which demonstrated that it doesn't matter if international football is better or worse than club football, it is different. The World Cup might not have the greatest teams but it provides the greatest moments and it provides moments when the world falls silent.

No other competition can do this, no other event can stop traffic across the globe as the World Cup can.

For the past month, there has been endless joy. There has been drama and melancholy, but it was all underpinned by the sense that anything can happen, that last night's drama will be overtaken by something else today. Brazil provided a tournament in the image of itself and the world should never forget it.

Sunday Indo Sport

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