The ongoing Football World Cup in Brazil is turning out to be one of the most memorable World Cups in recent memory. Before the tournament began there were doubts about whether the stadiums will be ready on time, we were even warned that there will be protests and strikes disrupting the event.
However fortunately, the initial fears that the tournament would be dominated by off-field events like protests and strikes, have now been put to rest.
That is not to say that there haven’t been isolated incidents of protests and strikes, there have indeed been a few, however the quality of what has been on display on the field, has been of such a high level, that all the off-field distractions, have paled in comparison and have either been ignore or been forgotten quickly.
So just what makes this World Cup more special and more memorable than its predecessors – here’s a look.
There Are No Minnows Any More
One of the biggest complaints about the Football World Cup over the years had been, that most of the teams from Asia and North America who qualified, were not good enough to compete at the top level and essentially just made up the numbers.
When one of these teams faced teams from Europe or South America, the result was more or less a foregone conclusion, and the match itself finished up being a totally one-sided affair, whose result became evident very early on. Let us all think back to the 2002 World Cup, and Germany hammering Saudi Arabia 8 – 0.
That match made everyone watching wonder just what is the point of having teams in the tournament who are here to simply make up the numbers, and who just cannot compete at this level, playing the tournament. Should the number of teams be lessened to make the event more competitive?
Brazil ’14 has emphatically answered this question in the negative. The present event has been extraordinarily competitive and its been very difficult to predict the outcome of any match.
There have been plenty of upsets and even where the ‘minnows’ have faced the giants, the matches have been anything but one-sided.
Just think back to Argentina vs Iran, where Iran held its own for long periods and had plenty of opportunities to score and win the match, only to be cruelly denied by a late Messi super strike.
So many matches take place in a World Cup that sooner or later there will be a one-sided result, like for instance Holland destroyed Spain 5-1, who had seen that result coming. However, by and large, in Brazil ’14, there have been no easy matches for anyone.
There are just no minnows anymore it seems and consequently no shortage of competitive matches. Costa Rica, would traditionally be considered minnows, and yet they have one of the most exciting teams to watch and have beaten two former champions to progress past the group stages with a match in hand!!
Australia would not be considered anywhere near the same level as Holland, but still gave the Dutch a run for their money in one of the best matches of the tournament, eventually losing 3-2. Similarly Ghana and Germany played out an unforgettable 2-2 draw with all the goals being scored in the same half.
This new steel that the ‘weaker’ sides have brought to the World Cup, this new belief that they are good enough to compete with and beat the best has given Brazil ’14 an edge that the previous editions of the World Cup didn’t have.
It Is All About Goals
Attack and defense are two inseparable parts of football, but ultimately the game is about the goals, and Brazil ’14 has given us plenty of those already. The 1958 World Cup averaged 3.6 goals a game, the highest ever, but off late, gradually the goals per game had been declining over the years. In South Africa ’10 this had dropped to as low as 2.27.
However, in the present edition this number has shot up to 2.8, making it one of the most high scoring World Cups in recent memory.
The general trend over the years has been that the big teams, the favorites, did the attacking, while the ‘weaker’ team, or the team which was not the favorite, in order to be able to compete used to rely heavily on their defending, and opted to use ‘negative’ tactics, totally cutting out the attacking part of their game, happy to settle for 0-0 draws.
However in the 2014 edition, all teams, even the minnows have realised that importance of attack. While the resurgence of the ‘weaker’ teams, has been built on the foundation of a solid defence, but swift movement and counter attacking has been equally vital in their wins.
As a result Brazil ’14 had the longest stretch of matches without a draw, of 12 games. Teams, whether favorites in the match or not, were going all out for wins and were not happy to settle for draws.
When Costa Rica beat Uruguay, a result no one expected, they didn’t just sit back and defend, rather whenever the opportunity presented itself, they broke forward with pace and their direct running at the Uruguay defense was a particular highlight.
Similarly Chile pulled off a major upset when they beat Spain, and again while a solid defense was the foundation of the win, as it will be for most wins, but the pace with which the Chilean forwards attacked the Spain defence, their pace and swift movement both on and off the ball, and the directness in their attack, was key to unsettling the Spanish defense and Chile winning.
This template for attack over defense was set very early on, as early as on the second day of the tournament itself, when Holland ran riot against the heavily fancied Spanish side. Spain had been dominating world football since 2008 and were the defending champions going into Brazil ’14, and were expected to beat Holland comfortably.
However Holland instead of being happy to defend, set out to attack the Spanish defence which was totally unprepared for such a stern test, and folded quickly. This very early on showed all teams that being positive could help them do better than just hope for 0-0 draws and as a whole the entire tournament has greatly benefitted from this positive approach of the teams.
While the sheer number of goals in itself has given Brazil ’14 a giant edge over its predecessors, the quality of goals has also been a huge factor in making the current World Cup just a global success.
Already in the tournament we have seen goals that will stay with us long after the curtains have come down. Robin van Persie’s diving header against Spain, Robben’s run and then the calmness he showed to round Casillas and blast the ball in the net to put the game beyond Spain
, Tim Cahill’s super volley bring Australia level against Holland, France’s brilliant counter attack against Switzerland, where Giroud won the header to help France defend a corner and within seconds ran down the left wing and rolled the ball across for Valbuena to tap into the goal, and Messi’s late super strike against Iran, are just some examples of such memorable and world-class goals we have already seen at World Cup ’14, and no doubt there will perhaps be a few more great goals before this edition finishes.
The ‘STARS’ Have Delivered
When all is said and done, the World Cup is a stage where the fans want to see the best players in the world perform and perform well. No one wants a world cup where the best don’t perform or struggle and unknown players take their team forward on the back of negative tactics or scrappy goals.
No, the fans want to see great goals at the World Cup and they want the great players scoring the great goals. In this regard too, World Cup ’14 has not let us down. The big name players for most of the respective teams have delivered and stood up and been counted.
Be it Messi, or Mandzukic, or Neymar, or Robin van Persie or Robben or James Rodriguez, or Luis Suarez, or Benzema or Muller, they have all come to the party.
There will always be some players who fail to deliver, but by and large nearly all players we were waiting to see and who were expected to deliver have delivered the goods, and this is what makes this World Cup even more memorable and better than any of the recent editions.
It has been a combination of all these factors that has ensured that Brazil ’14 will be fondly remembered by all, and why the return of the biggest Football event in the world to the game’s spiritual home – Brazil, will be remembered for positive reasons.