The 2014 World Cup of football (soccer) ended in spectacular fashion with Germany securing a 1-0 extra time victory over Argentina in the final thanks to a sublime goal by substitute Mario Gotze. In the 113th minute, Gotze received a pass in the box from Andre Schurrle on the left flank and took the ball softly on his chest before volleying a rocket of a shot into the right hand corner of the Argentine goal. By most metrics, the tournament was a smashing success. The 2014 World Cup featured 171 goals from the run of play and thereby tied France 1998 for the record number of goals in the tournament’s history. Colombia’s James Rodriguez prevailed as the tournament’s most prolific goal scorer with 6 goals to win the Golden Boot, while Germany’s Thomas Muller scored 5 goals and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Robin van Persie each scored 4 goals. Muller’s achievement of 5 goals in the 2014 World Cup was all the more remarkable because he scored 5 goals in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as well. Meanwhile, his teammate Miroslav Klose broke Ronaldo’s record for the total number of goals scored by a single player in the World Cup by bringing his tally to 16 after scoring goals against Ghana and Brazil.
Aside from finalists Germany and Argentina, the tournament also witnessed admirable performances from Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Netherlands. But amidst the goals and celebrations, we also saw the darker side of football as exemplified by Luis Suarez’s bite of Italy’s Chiellini and the harrowing scenes of Neymar screaming in pain as he was escorted off the field by the medical crew, only to subsequently learn that he had fractured his third spinal vertebrae after being kneed in the back and would miss the World Cup from the semifinals onwards.
The host nation, Brazil, delivered one of the most disappointing performances in their World Cup history and, as such, enabled a reconfiguration in the geopolitics of world football as noted below:
1.World champions Germany deservedly secured their fourth World Cup championship, and their first since 1990. Alongside Brazil and Spain, Germany becomes the third nation to win a World Cup outside of their own continent, and the only European nation to win the World Cup on South American soil. Germany has reached the semifinals of the World Cup a record 13 times in their history and can now stake a legitimate claim to the title of the greatest footballing nation in history. True, Brazil has won 5 World Cups in comparison to Germany’s 4, but Germany has been more consistent over the course of the last twenty years, in particular, by reaching the semifinals for the last four World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) and the quarterfinals in 1994 and 1998.
2.Brazil no longer occupies a place amongst the list of the great footballing nations in the world today. They delivered a shameful performance not only in their 7-1 demolition by Germany, but also in their 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands and the tournament overall. Part of the problem here was that they tried to play “European style” with tough tackling and a defensive midfield as opposed to a creative one, but the irony is that their European counterparts had advanced in their tactics with demonstrations of the triangular passing and possession football for which Brazil was once known. Footballing historians will recall Brazil’s disgraceful performance at the 1990 World Cup, where they tried to emulate their European counterparts after the failed exploits of Tele Santana’s attacking teams of 1982 and 1986. European football does not suit Brazil, but another part of the problem was simply the quality of their players, with the exception of Neymar.
3.Spain can no longer be considered in the running for the best ever designation in the history of football. Winning the 2014 World Cup would surely have qualified Spain for serious inclusion at the top of the list of footballing greats amongst the likes of Brazil 1970, but their ignominious exit in the group stage marked by a 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands and a 2-0 loss to Chile means they earn the title of one of the greatest teams in the history of football, as opposed to the greatest. Nevertheless, the footballing community gives thanks to Spain for their contribution to world football and their famous brand of tiki-taka, possession football that Germany took to the next level at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
4.Lionel Messi advanced his case for the title of greatest footballer of all time by scoring four goals and leading Argentina to its first World Cup final since 1990. Nevertheless, once again, Messi failed to deliver on the international stage at the level at which he performs for Barcelona. Part of Messi’s failure to deliver for his country in the way he performs for his club has to do with the way in which Barcelona’s formation sets him up for success in a way that Argentina has never been able to do, whether under Maradona or Sabella. That said, one wonders whether Lionel Messi will ever truly make his mark as the greatest player of all time without winning a World Cup, or otherwise having a fantastic World Cup tournament marked by a plethora of goals. At the age of 26, however, the clock is ticking for Messi and time will tell if he will ever grip a World Cup by the scruff of its neck and lead Argentina to glory.