On the plus side, the World Cup-winning goal was a beauty, and one rather fitting of the tournament overall: it came late, unexpectedly and was a stunner. It’s been a striker’s paradise down there, from the first match all the way back in mid-June – Remember? Before you put on five pounds thanks to some questionable World Cup-lifestyle decisions? – all the way through.
Yes, there were a few unglamorous moments (including, unfortunately, the final), but the tournament overall rarely disappointed. Let’s recap before the real world creeps back in.
James Rodriguez. The word on Colombia coming into the tournament was how much they’d miss striker Radamel Falcao. But then Colombian wonderboy James (pronounced Ha-mez) Rodriguez started banging in goals, smiling all the way. He powered his side to the quarterfinals, scoring six times in five matches – enough to win him the Golden Boot for most goals scored, despite his team’s early(ish) departure. He turned 23 over the weekend, and thanks to his stellar performance in Brazil, has become the one player every team in the world (that has ton of cash to splash) wants to sign.
Hair. Buckets of bleach (of which there is a grand history). Artisanal shavings. Every kind of Mohawk you can imagine. Inspirational Zorro slashes (or not?). A rat tail. It’s like FIFA recruited at a hipster kickball game. Next time you hesitate at the moment of truth, thinking you can’t rock an off-center bleached Mohawk, remember: Serey Die did. So why can’t you?
Javier Mascherano. You know, defenders never get the glory, and even though Mascherano’s Argentina will always be known as Messi’s Argentina, Mascherano was the side’s stealth weapon: a pillar in the back that kept alive a team with a misfiring frontline. This was never more apparent than in Argentina’s semifinal victory over the Netherlands: Mascherano made a perfect last-gasp tackle to deny Arjen Robben a certain goal, and in the process he, literally, tore his ass. (Try not to cringe.)
Luis Suarez. Remember when he bit that guy? No, not the first one or the second one. The third one, the Italian defender, just a few weeks ago. He’s been shut out of the sport since then, mostly, though Barcelona decided to dig around in its bottomless couch cushions to scrape together $128 million to buy him from Liverpool. Not bad, considering Suarez’s punishment for the most recent bite includes, among other things, a ban that prevents him from even setting foot in a stadium until November.
Whoever decided it was a good idea to play in the Amazon. Really? You’re going to spend a bajillion dollars to (poorly) construct a giant stadium in a city you can’t drive to – and isn’t even home to a top-flight team who can use it once the World Cup party is over? Oh, and it’s so hot, humid and miserable that teams have to take water breaks during each half so the players don’t die? Brilliant.
Divers. The scourge of the sport was unfortunately prominent, starting with the opening match when Brazil scored its first goal thanks to an obvious piece of embellishment that handed them an unearned penalty against plucky, boldly shirted Croatia. Dutch attacker Arjen Robben, a prolific diver, later stirred up a worldwide shitstorm after admitting he fell a bit too easily against Mexico…but not on the play that won his side’s decisive penalty. Hmm.
Team USA! USA! USA!
It was a good run for the U.S. team, finishing second in its group of death, only to fall 2-1 to Belgium in the first elimination round. It was also a big boost for the team’s profile, with Nielsen reporting a 44 percent increase in viewership compared to the 2010 World Cup. Over 18 million people watched the U.S. take on Portugal. Another 16.5 million watched the loss to Belgium. That’s a helluva lot of potential draftees for Sam’s Army.
Where does the U.S. go from here? Insta-hero Tim Howard was the team’s star man – he put in the performance of his life against Belgium – but at age 35, you have to think this is his last World Cup. Other aging team stalwarts include Clint Dempsey, 31, and Jermaine Jones and DaMarcus Beasley, both 32. All of which is to say coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s got a team in transition.
The good news is that a few of the U.S. young guns made their cases in Brazil. Defenders DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks have tournament glories to look forward to. Brad Guzan, the heir apparent to Howard’s gloves, has been a rock for his club, Aston Villa. Jozy Altidore is hit or miss, but if Klinsmann can get him firing, the U.S. will never be short on goals. The big job is the midfield. The U.S. was constantly outplayed around the halfway line, and without a quality midfield, the U.S. can’t hope to compete with the world’s elite.
If Klinsmann can sort that out, there’s no reason the U.S. shouldn’t be able to make it further before having its heart broken.
Yes, there were a few underdog surprises, but none that really made you want to stand up and high-five the hell out of someone. Not even Nostradamus could have seen Costa Rica going deeper in the tournament than England, Italy, Spain, Chile, Portugal, the U.S., Mexico and on and on, but they made it to the quarterfinals, and while that’s inspiring, the watching-of-it was not so much. What’s going to linger is Brazil. Because, really:
WTF, Brazil? They didn’t just go out, they flamed out. The hosts were run out of the tournament to the tune of 10-1 (!!!) in their final two matches. The first, the instantly infamous 7-1 destruction at the hands of Germany, was the first time the team had lost a competitive match at home since 1975. (It could have been worse; the Germans decided to go easy in the second half.) It took all of four days for a second loss to pile up, as the Dutch twisted the knife in world soccer’s least-favorite consolation prize, the third-place match, on Saturday. It was like watching Brazil’s World Cup dream getting hauled out into the woods and having its head bashed in. Twice.
Which is to say, you really couldn’t have hoped for a better month of soccer. We had goals galore, impressive individual and team performances, a torrent of heartbreak, some history and one side – love ’em or hate ’em – that earned the trophy by leaving a trail of bloodied, shredded opponents in their wake. And so that’s it. Back to work. (You still have a job, right?) See you in 2018 in Russia, where the opening small-talk gambit will be: Where were you when Brazil lost 7-1?