World Cup 2014: Thrills, spills and drunken Chileans feature in tournament awards
From Robin van Persie’s spectacular header, Louis van Gaal’s arrogant genius and overhyped Belgium, Brazil has been a World Cup to remember. Jason Burt hands out his tournament awards.
Brazil v Chile: It was only in the last 16 and it may not have had the traumatic, historic resonance of Brazil’s semi-final loss to Germany or the controversy of their quarter-final win over Colombia but for the intensity of the occasion and the excitement of the match then it has to be Brazil’s penalty shoot‑out victory against Chile.
The atmosphere inside the Estadio Mineirao was quite extraordinary, the decibel levels unprecedented as the fans chanted “Acredito” (I believe) amid scenes that were almost primal. There were tears from Brazil goalkeeper Julio César before the penalty shoot-out while the bravery of Chile’s brilliant, attacking football was incredible.
Costa Rica v England: This was the dullest of dead rubbers, although it should not have been. England were out of the World Cup after they followed a performance full of positivity against Italy with one full of poverty against Uruguay – and then they served up this dross. It was an embarrassment, given this was a World Cup: shamefully, it looked like England could not get out of Brazil quickly enough.
MOST MEMORABLE GAME
Brazil v Germany: This was car-crash viewing; a party that turned into a wake. It was painful to watch, an exercise in national panic that will resonate through the decades. Having reached the semi‑finals it was felt that the Seleçao had avoided embarrassment at their own World Cup. How wrong we were. Brazil were a shambles, the foolishness of their maudlin approach to the injured Neymar, the folly of Luiz Felipe Scolari constantly playing on the emotions of a nation and the limitations of his team cruelly exposed by German brilliance.
Louis van Gaal: There have been some outstanding candidates: Germany’s Joachim Löw, Chile’s Jorge Sampaoli and Costa Rica’s Jorge Pinto all had brilliant tournaments and exposed the folly of the argument that international management is not about coaching or developing tactical plans and simply boils down to man‑management. But for fun and variety and a bit of devilment, it has to be Van Gaal, who became a compelling figure for his tactics, boldness and arrogance in leading a limited Dutch squad to the semi-finals.
Manuel Neuer: Guillermo Ochoa for Mexico, Tim Howard for the USA and Sergio Romero for Argentina were all exemplary but it has to be Neuer, who cemented his status as the world’s best with a series of formidable displays for Germany. Neuer has everything – agility, power, presence – and is the ultimate modern goalkeeper with his distribution, ability to play with his feet and being a ‘sweeper-keeper’.
Mats Hummels: In such an attacking World Cup the defending, at times, has been poor. There have been few impressive defenders, especially in the centre, and even fewer who appear able to back themselves in a one‑against-one situation. Of the recognised top defenders Hummels has been the most impressive.
Toni Kroos: Aged 24, the German is now very much the complete midfield player who can hold and attack, pass and shoot and boasts significant physical presence. He has been brilliant in a formidable German line-up in front of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira. Honourable mentions, though, should go to France’s Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo (wonderful against England), Javier Mascherano, Chile’s Charles Aranguiz and Arturo Vidal. There was also Colombia’s outstanding James Rodríguez, although he is more a No 10.
Lionel Messi: There have been some great performances and not least from Arsenal’s new £30 million striker Alexis Sánchez, Holland’s Arjen Robben, Germany’s Thomas Müller and, of course, Brazil’s Neymar. Ultimately, however, it has to be Messi. The captain of Argentina has not been at his irrepressible best but there is an aura about him that has not only affected opponents but, at times, has almost intimidated his team-mates. He has a presence, a tranquillity and the confidence to know that he will make a difference.
BEST INDIVIDUAL DISPLAY
Neymar (v Croatia): Having fallen behind and laboured in Sao Paulo it could have turned ugly for the hosts until the boy wonder striker intervened. He scored twice but it was more the way that he assumed the role as his country’s saviour that was so remarkable.
TOP THREE GOALS
1. Robin van Persie’s diving header against Spain where he controlled his body and arched his back to lob the goalkeeper with a header.
2. James Rodríguez’s remarkable, exuberant strike against Uruguay in which he even took time to check the position of the goalkeeper before volleying in from outside the penalty area
3. Chile’s team goal against Spain in the group stages, in which they stole possession and wonderfully worked an opening for Eduardo Vargas.
Russia: Once again, following his traumatic experience with England in South Africa in 2010, this was another high-profile, crushing failure for the highly paid Fabio Capello, whose team were simply deathly. The World Cup has now been a triple disaster for Capello – once as a player with Italy in 1974 and twice now as a coach – which makes it all the more intriguing that he will be in charge when Russia host in 2018.
MOST OVER-HYPED TEAM
Belgium: They reached the quarter-finals, but these most obvious of dark horses never amounted to the sum of their parts. Apart from the last-16 encounter with the USA they never cut loose and showed their undoubted talent. Coach Marc Wilmots cut a sour figure who simply did not appear to know his best team or how to get the best out of his squad.
Chile: They stormed the media centre at the Maracana, got on the red wine at 10am and did not relent. Their songs, their singing of the national anthem, the way they embraced coach Jorge Sampaoli’s declaration that they were the “rebels” of the World Cup... it was all raucous and fun and slightly chaotic. They were run close by the hordes from Mexico, while respect is also due to the litter-clearing Japanese.
Spain: Not that they did not qualify from their group but just how meekly they capitulated. This was a disastrous defence from the world champions: there was a sense beforehand that many of their best players started the tournament past their peak, but they nevertheless had a squad that was brimming with talent and also some exciting young players.
THE BEST THING ABOUT BRAZIL WAS...
Brazil. They made it their World Cup. My fear was that, as in South Africa, it would simply be a Fifa World Cup and the location could be anywhere; instead, Brazil have given this tournament their own imprint. It may have been owned by Fifa but it was embraced and given an identity by Brazil.
THE WORST THING ABOUT BRAZIL WAS...
The achingly chronic poverty, which is obvious at every turn. I can complain about the delays, the rip-off hotels and the travel and how long it simply takes to get things done. But all those are pathetically trivial compared to the hardship so many people face and which will always call into question the wisdom of staging the tournament here.