The good, the bad and the ugly from the 2014 FIFA World Cup
Source: George Johnson, Canada.com, July 14, 2014.
RIO DE JANEIRO — It began with the $70 cab ride in from Galeao International Airport, past the empty expanse of mighty Maracana and through the centro, the multi-coloured shantytown favelas seemingly scaling upwards into the clouds, and ending on a picture-postcard-perfect late Sunday afternoon for a kick-about with 72,000 crammed into the legendary stadium.
A 31-day trek through the ridiculous, the sublime, the wearying, the exhilarating and the patience-testing.
Every World Cup naturally enough discovers its own identity, its own quirks, its own rhythm along the way and this edition, from the tanned, teasing and supple beaches of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana to the humid heart of the Amazon up in Manaus, proved no exception.
After a truly absorbing round robin phase, rife with compelling upsets, spectacular strikes, vanquished powers and new heroes to embrace, the level of entertainment began to steadily diminish. But the crazy subplots continued on, unabated.
Germany’s players are mobbed by photographers as they celebrate their victory in the final football match between Germany and Argentina for the FIFA World Cup at The Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on July 13, 2014. (FABRIZIO BENSCH/AFP/Getty Images)
Quibble away to your heart’s content about officiating glitches and heartbreakingly unfair results and where exactly to lay blame for dreams turned to ash but in the final analysis, the best team throughout this tournament, Germany, and the top player on our planet, Lionel Messi, found themselves alone, left standing to squabble over one of the most sought-after prizes in all of sport.
It seemed only right.
Here, then, heading back out to Galeao as exhausted football fanatics call it a wrap on the 2014 World Cup, are the good and bad, the winners and losers, of the last month:
Winners: FIFA. They always make their money. In whatever currency. Scads and scads of it.
Losers: Brazil itself. After the colourful, five-week sideshow packs up and leaves, what now? An $11-billion expenditure in a country desperately in need of infrastructure funding and social improvements. From the “seemed like a good idea at the time” file …
Winners: Both Germany AND Argentina. Together, they conspired to produce one of the most memorable finals in memory.
Losers: FIFA’s concussion protocol — or lack of same — which really, really, really needs a rethink.
Winners: Colombia. The scenes in Bogota when Los Cafeteros returned home following a gut-wrenching 2-1 quarter-final loss to Brazil were absolutely extraordinary. Thousands upon thousands of converts, dancing, singing, swaying, celebrating. Long may they find reason to rejoice.
Losers: The scorched earth left by the implosion of the fabled Selecao. FourFourTwo magazine, the New Testament of the game, had trumpeted in its preview issue: “Bring it on! BRAZIL. Why Neymar & Co. are ready to welcome the world … and samba them senseless.” Well, the dancing ended prematurely. While defending champions Spain and other highly-fancied nations such as Italy and Portugal slunk home early in shame, the most dire of fates was left for the hosts to endure. To cosmetically inflate hopes by lurching all the way to the semifinals on the backs of Neymar and some dodgy officiating only to suffer 7-1 dismemberment by the Germans and sleepwalk through a 3-0 third-place loss against the Dutch will live long in infamy here.
Brazil defender David Luiz walks off the pitch after losing the semifinal match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte on July 8, 2014, during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)
Winner: Lionel Messi.
Losers: Any short-sighted, narrow-minded clod who continues to question Messi’s status as an all-time great, despite the crushing result at Maracana on Sunday.
Good: Arjen Robben (veering left, ball duct-taped to his left foot) slicing towards goal.
Bad: Arjen Robben (arms wide, mouth open like a bass attacking a lure) feeling the irresistible pull of gravity.
Winners: Joachim Low and Alejandro Sabella. Oft criticized during the tournament for failing to coax enough out of their famous sides, the two were ultimately vindicated by taking their nations to the final and putting on one helluva show.
Loser: Luis Felipe (Big Phil) Scolari. Once loved as the big, cuddly, funny, moustachioed father figure of Brazilian football, he is now the man infamously in charge of the first back-to-back World Cup losses in history. It never pays to let 200 million people down.
Winner: Luis Suarez. A 75-million pound ($137,250,000) transfer to the club of his dreams, Barcelona. Can’t be bad, right?
Loser: Luis Suarez. Serial biter. Serial liar. Serial cheat. Expelled from the tournament for a selfish, reactionary act when most needed by his country, only to be feted as a martyred hero on his return home to Montevideo.
Winner: James Rodriguez. Stuck in the wide shadow of clubmate Radamel Falcao at Monaco and internationally for Colombia, exploded into global star-status in his own right, volleying the goal of the tournament against Uruguay in the Round of 16 and adding five more.
Loser: Mario Balotelli. The Italian nutbar striker started brightly enough, nodding home a deciding goal and executing a sublime, audacious chip against the English up in Manaus, then promptly disappeared from view, perhaps into the nearby Amazon rainforest. Shunning his teammates and boss Cesare Prandelli, he ended his first World Cup a petulant, peevish miscreant. After arriving home, Balo quickly enraged his club AC Milan by posting a picture of himself on Instagram holding a gun pointed at the camera and the caption: “To all the haters.” What an imbecile.
Good (to great): The level of goaltending in this tournament.
US goalkeeper Tim Howard makes a save during a Round of 16 football match between Belgium and USA at Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on July 1, 2014. (FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Bad (to horrible): The level of crossing. Abysmal.
Good: The surprisingly high level of overall compete, and success, from CONCACAF nations.
Bad: Injuries that robbed us of Neymar and Angel di Maria, and hobbled Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie, adding to an already distinguished list of pre-tournament casualties that included Falcao and Franck Ribery.
SIGHTS, SOUNDS (and smells)
Good: Copacabana beach in the daylight.
Bad: Copacabana beach in the dark.
Good: Meat prepared like nowhere else.
A fan of the Argentina national soccer team cries, right, after Germany’s victory in the final math of the World Cup, as he walks on the beach in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Mario Goetze volleyed in the winning goal in extra time to give Germany its fourth World Cup title with a 1-0 victory over Argentina. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Bad: “Cups” of coffee better suited to a doll house (the wonderful, generous Cafe Hum on Rua Gen. Venancio Flores, Leblon, notwithstanding).
Good: The 50 real ($25) splurged on the train ride up Corcovado Mountain through dense forest to the Cristo Redentor statue, the 635-tonnes, 48-metre high, Art Deco soapstone-and-concrete symbol of Rio and Brazil. The views from its base, overlooking Maracana and the panorama of the city itself, simply breathtaking.
Bad: The Sao Paulo Rodoviaria (bus station). Toasty — even in winter — and an absolute ant hill of teeming humanity. And, goodness, let’s not get started on the hygiene in the sanitarios (washrooms) … sure signs that an apocalypse is nigh.
Good: Trip on the cable cars up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, where the planes landing at the Santos Dumont Airport actually are banking in BELOW you.
Bad: Overnight bus trip, Rio to Sao Paulo — or vice versa.
United States fans cheer in the rain prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil group G match between the United States and Germany at Arena Pernambuco on June 26, 2014 in Recife, Brazil. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Good: The American influence. U.S. fans travelled here in droves, brandished their colours with customary national pride, were cheery and open and although overmatched, their team did reach the knockouts and, against Belgium, goalkeeper Tim Howard gave them a 15-save evening for the ages as a cameo-keepsake of their Brazilian adventure.
Bad: Crazed Chileans invading the Maracana uninvited.
Good: Supporters wearing their country’s colours with unabashed fervour.
Bad: Accredited media wearing their country’s colours with unabashed fervour.
And just think, only four years until Russia.