64 years after the first World Cup on Brazilian soil, the football festival of the world returned to its most successful participant. It says a lot about Brazilian football culture that they are still hurting from their 1950 defeat to Uruguay, and this gave them the opportunity to finally lay those ghosts to rest. They did, but not in the way intended. Rather than make amends for that failure in the Maracana, this generation suffered such a great humiliation in their 7-1 semi-final loss to Germany that any past embarrassment is lifted of all shame.
Their one saving grace was that Germany went on to win the tournament, saving them from the ignominy of arch-rivals Argentina winning it in their home. Spain’s win in South Africa four years ago was the first for a European team outside of their continent and this German win lifts any curse for European teams in South America.
Player of the Tournament
The Golden Ball was always going to one of Lionel Messi, Neymar, James Rodriguez or Arjen Robben, but it was the eventual winner’s teammate Javier Mascherano that stood out in Argentina’s run to the final. Messi may have frequently provided moments of magic when Argentina needed him but he rarely shone over 90 minutes, looking lethargic and uninterested for long periods, and it was Mascherano that kept Argentina in the game while they waited for Messi to appear. Shifted to centre-back at club level, Mascherano showed why he may still be the world’s best holding player, saving his defence whenever he was called upon. His finest display came against the Netherlands, completely dominating the game despite receiving a blow to the head that really should have seen him substituted.
Young Player of the Tournament
Had he progressed further into the tournament, Colombia’s James Rodriguez was nailed on to win the Golden Ball, but a quarter-final exit weakened his claim. Not that it was his fault – even against Brazil, where all his teammates were losing their heads, Rodriguez shone, his influence only curtailed by terrible officiating allowing Brazil to kick him out of the game.
Goal of the Tournament
There was only two real choices in this category: Tim Cahill’s Marco van Basten-esque volley against the Dutch wowed in the group stages, but James Rodriguez‘s volley to break down Uruguay edges it out. Everything about it was perfect: the look over his shoulder to ensure he had space, the control on his chest and the technique to send it dipping over Fernando Muslera.
Manager of the Tournament
The obvious candidate here would be Joachim Low after leading his country to victory, but their strategy often weakened what was the the finest selection of players available outside of Spain’s. Instead congratulations must go to Jorge Luis Pinto, whose Costa Rica side were expected to prop up Group D but instead topped it and were only defeated on penalties by a Dutch team with a far better pool of players to choose from, getting there playing a brand of football better than their 5-4-1 formation would suggest.
Disappointment of the Tournament
There’s simultaneously plenty to choose from and only one real choice. Winning the last three major tournaments and drawing a squad of players mainly from the best league in the world, Spain‘s pathetic limp home after just two games was unexpected. Not that it will keep them down for long, possessing a new generation waiting in the wings just as good as the last.
Team of the Tournament
Honourable mentions: Keylor Navas, Guillermo Ochoa, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Gary Medel, Marco Rojo, Miguel Layun, Hector Herrera, Juan Cuadrado, Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas, Andre Schurrle