This was the tournament where Brazil were supposed to shake off the historical scars of the 1950 “Maracanazo” when Uruguay defeated them 2-1 in Rio de Janeiro’s famous stadium the last time they hosted the World Cup. Yet they never even made it to the Maracana this time, collapsing horribly to Germany 7-1 in the semi-final in Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium. It would be hard to pinpoint one pivotal moment as goal-after-goal flew past the imploding Brazilians. But it was perhaps when Toni Kroos’s left-foot shot put the Germans 3-0 up in the 24th minute that the horror really set in for the capacity crowd and millions of Brazilians watching round the nation. Five goals went in during a 19-minute spell of the first half in Brazil’s record World Cup defeat and their first loss at home in 64 competitive matches since 1975. The “Mineirazo” will haunt Brazil forever.
Uruguay striker Luis Suarez had been the two-goal hero of a 2-1 victory over England, but he turned villain in the next game against Italy by inexplicably biting defender Giorgio Chiellini towards the end. The Italians were still complaining when Uruguay scored from a corner to win 1-0 and reach the last 16. Suarez’s joy at victory was short-lived, though, as his action touched off worldwide controversy and brought a nine-match ban from playing for Uruguay and four-month prohibition from football – the toughest sanction ever given at a World Cup. After initially clutching his teeth on the pitch as if he was the injured party, Suarez eventually apologized and Chiellini forgave him. The incident did not stop Suarez’s 81 million euro ($111 million) move to Barcelona.
Bayern Munich midfielder Mario Goetze had been having a disappointing tournament for Germany and was dropped in the latter stages. But that all changed after he came on as a substitute in the final against Argentina. In the 113th minute, with the score at 0-0 and penalties looming after a tense game where both sides missed good chances, the 22-year-old creative midfielder received a cross from Andre Schuerrle. He controlled it on his chest and slammed it past Argentina’s Sergio Romero to win the game, send his homeland into raptures and write himself into football history.
Brazil’s World Cup effectively ended when Colombia defender Juan Zuniga charged into their marquee striker Neymar with a raised knee during a rough quarter-final. Neymar, whose four goals and exuberant play had carried the team, left in tears on a stretcher with a broken vertebra. Brazil won that game 2-1, but the emotionally fragile team collapsed afterwards, losing 7-1 to Germany in the semi-final and 3-0 to the Netherlands in the third-place playoff. The fans’ chanting of Neymar’s name and the team’s holding aloft of his number 10 shirt prior to kickoff against Germany were moving at the time but look hollow in retrospect given the trauma that followed.
Veteran Germany striker Miroslav Klose’s close-range strike against Brazil in the semi-final after 23 minutes made him the tournament’s all-time leading scorer with 16 goals. The 36-year-old had moved level with former Brazil striker Ronaldo on 15 when he scored in Germany’s 2-2 draw against Ghana in the group stage. The best German striker of his generation, Klose has played in four World Cups and now scored 71 goals in 136 appearances for his country. The mild-mannered, Polish-born Klose, who is also a trained carpenter, was typically modest about his achievement. “Miroslav Klose in the club of 16 and everyone’s welcome to join,” he said afterwards.
While much of the world had focused on Brazil’s Neymar, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo as potential standout performers, it was Colombia’s attacking midfielder James Rodriguez who arguably overshadowed them all with consistently brilliant performances – and six goals – in his nation’s dream run to a first quarter-final. His best moment came against Uruguay in the last 16 when the ball arched towards him 25 meters out. Rodriguez had the presence of mind to glance over his shoulder to check the positioning of the goalkeeper before chesting the ball down and, in one fluid movement, turning and firing a left-foot volley in off the underside of the crossbar. The Netherlands’ Robin Van Persie, scorer of an extraordinary “salmon”-like header against Spain, and Australia’s Tim Cahill, who smacked in a fantastic volley against the Netherlands, may disagree, but for most pundits Rodriguez’s was the goal of the tournament.
No-one shakes it like the Colombians. Their joyous, hip-swaying goal celebrations will live long in the memory, much as Cameroon’s did back in 1990. It was left back Pablo Armero, with a history of dancing for club and country, who led the way after scoring against Greece in their opening game in the fifth minute. The rhythmic 27-year-old raced to his bench, crossed himself, called team mates around, and then led a clearly rehearsed but nonetheless fabulous dance of salsa steps and raised arms that quickly went viral back home. The dances kept on coming as Colombia fired in 12 goals and reached the last 16 for the first time since 1990. Only Ghana ran Colombia a close second with their moves, striker Asamoah Gyan leading the team in a leg-cocking ‘chicken’ dance after scoring against Germany.
Cameroon’s miserable World Cup hit a shocking low when defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto head-butted team mate Benjamin Moukandjo towards the end of their 4-0 capitulation to Croatia. Players from both teams intervened to halt the shameful scuffle that symbolized the chaos in the ‘Indomitable Lions’. “Such behavior is really disgusting, it won’t do, it’s impossible,” said coach Volker Finke. Earlier in the same game, midfielder Alex Song was sent off for bizarrely elbowing Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic in the back right in front of the referee. And all that after a team strike over money prior to departure for Brazil, and injury to captain Samuel Eto’o.
Algeria ended their 28-year-old wait for a World Cup goal when Sofiane Feghouli converted a spot-kick in the 25th minute to give them a 1-0 lead over Belgium. The players, representing the only Arab nation at the World Cup, wore their Muslim faith proudly by kneeling in prayer to give thanks for the goal. The north Africans lost that game 2-1, but went on to score another six goals in a surprisingly fruitful campaign which ended with a 2-1 loss to Germany in the last 16.
In the dying seconds of extra time with the score at 1-1 in their last-16 game, Chile striker Mauricio Pinilla hit a thunderous shot that rattled off the crossbar to leave Brazil counting their lucky stars as they went to penalties. Chile lost the shootout, but had Pinilla’s shot gone just slightly lower, he would have become a national hero by overturning a painful history of defeats by Brazil, who also knocked them out of the 2010, 1998 and 1962 World Cups. Back home, Pinilla had a tattoo of the shot made on his back with the caption: “One Centimetre from Glory.” Chileans say the crossbar haunts their sleep.