Brazilian humiliation, Argentinian anguish, German joy and a Spanish shock, this is the World Cup 2014 – a nightmare revisited for fans of the host nation
“The worst day of my football life,” were the words of World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and there is no other starting point when looking back at the 2014 tournament than the darkest day in Brazilian football.
The five German goals inside the opening 29 minutes of their semi-final contest in Belo Horizonte remains one of the most staggering halves an hour’s of football in history and the humiliation broke the hearts of an entire nation.
Scolari’s Brazil, on home soil, were looking to lift a sixth title and after topping their group, edging Chile on penalties and squeezing past Colombia, the Selecao were on course. However, results had papered over cracks, cracks that had been evident for years as Brazil sleep-walked towards disaster.
Injury to Neymar in the quarter-final ruled him out and in the semis, Germany ruthlessly tore Brazil to shreds. The 7-1 scoreline that took Germany to the final will forever be etched in the history books and as Brazil arrive in Russia as one of the favourites, manager Tite admitted only in March that the wound from the Mineirazo is still open.
If leaving Brazil’s dreams in tatters wasn’t bad enough, Germany then tore up the script just as Argentina were dreaming of lifting the title in the backyard of their continental rival and Lionel Messi was primed to seal his place as the greatest of all-time.
Joachim Low’s side remained as cool as ice dispatching Algeria on penalties and France before that destruction of Brazil while Argentina were leaning on the genius of Messi to reach the last four for the first time since 1990.
Buenos Aires believed when Sergio Romero was the penalty hero against the Netherlands in the semis that it was their year and it might have been had Gonzalo Higuain packed his shooting boots in the final.
Messi was well-shackled for the most part but Alejandro Sabella’s well-organised and determined outfit had the chance for glory until Mario Gotze won it deep in extra-time.
The unwanted Golden Ball
Messi’s face after being handed the award for the tournament’s best player said it all. Without the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Argentina wouldn’t have got anywhere near the final but a quiet performance in the final that ended in defeat meant Messi, choking back the tears, was in no mood to bask in any individual glory.
Thomas Muller’s five goals could have earned him the prize as could Toni Kross’ metronomic displays in midfield or Arjen Robben’s blistering wing play but James Rodriguez’s individual performances before Colombia’s quarter-final exit were outstanding.
The 22-year-old stood up to lead Colombia, and ended the tournament as the top scorer and his stunning volley against Uruguay took him the Puskas Award for 2014.
The surprise packages
If the Mineirazo was the shock of the tournament then holders Spain crashing out in the group stage was a runner-up. An outrageously talented group had won the previous tournament in between back-to-back European Championships but drawn a tough group with the Netherlands, Chile and Australia, La Roja came unstuck.
Thrashed 5-1 by the Dutch, then beaten by Jorge Sampaoli’s Chile, victory over Australia wasn’t enough.
And they weren’t alone as both England and and Italy fell at the first hurdle thanks in large part to the tournament’s underdog story, Costa Rica.
Los Ticos produced their best-ever World Cup performance, topping Group D after victories over Uruguay and Italy and a draw with England. A penalty triumph took Costa Rica past Greece in the last 16 and into the quarterfinals for the first time, only another shootout, this time against the Dutch, eventually saw the run ended.