A Cup of Winners, Losers
Rio De Janeiro — The history books will show that Germany won the 2014 World Cup 1-0 in extra time over Argentina, becoming the first European team to win the trophy on South American soil and denying Argentine star Lionel Messi the one achievement that is missing from his incredible résumé.
But there were plenty of other winners and losers at this monthlong tournament, starting with Brazil.
The tournament’s host was a winner, defying naysayers who predicted this country might love soccer more than any other, but it did not have the infrastructure or public support to pull off a sporting event of this magnitude. They were wrong. Brazil’s World Cup worked and will go down in history as one of the most exciting in recent memory.
Brazil the team, however, ended the tournament in shame. The Jogo Bonito was officially laid to rest in Belo Horizonte last Tuesday after an embarrassing 7-1 loss to Germany, and the 3-0 loss to Netherlands in the third-place game confirmed that something is very wrong with Brazilian soccer.
Even before poster boy Neymar went out with a back injury, the team was struggling. Its dream was to finally win a World Cup at Maracana. Instead, it had to watch rival Argentina and Germany steal its stage.
Here are some other winners and losers from Brazil 2014:
∎ Winner: Costa Rica. Who would have imagined when the Ticos were drawn into a group with former World Cup champions England, Italy and Uruguay, that Costa Rica would come out on top? The Ticos reached the quarterfinals, and it was no fluke. Great goalkeeper. Great coach in Jorge Luis Pinto.
∎ Loser: Spain. The defending World Cup champion, loaded with Barcelona and Real Madrid multimillion-dollar stars, went out in the first round. Tiki-taka didn’t work this time.
∎ Winner: Brazilian pineapple, mango, papaya, bananas and hearts of palm (“palmitas”). The fruits and hearts of palm here are truly delicious, more tasty than I’ve had anywhere in the world. Also, big thumbs up for “Moqueqa,’” a Brazilian fish/seafood stew made with tomatoes and coconut milk.
∎ Loser: Carb-free diets. One of the most popular foods here is Pao de Queijo, cheese buns. They are everywhere. At airports, gas stations, street vendors, bakeries, you name it. They’re not big on green veggies here. Their side dishes are much more potato- and white rice-heavy, and they love to eat empanada pastries filled with everything you can imagine.
∎ Winner: CONCACAF goalkeepers. Tim Howard (USA), Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico) and Keyler Navas (Costa Rica) were all outstanding. They kept their teams in games. American fans will always remember Howard’s World Cup-record 16 saves against Belgium. He was already known among soccer fans as a truly world-class player, but now casual fans know him, too. As well they should. Bonus: He’s a great guy and an inspiration to others afflicted with Tourrette’s Syndrome.
∎ Loser: Cristiano Ronaldo. For all his preening and fantastic résumé, the Portuguese star had a forgettable tournament. In his defense, he was playing through a knee injury, which clearly affected him. But still, expected to see more from him.
∎ Winner: Brazilian graffiti artists. Everywhere you go in Brazil, particularly in Sao Paulo and Rio, you will encounter fantastic colorful murals painted on walls by graffiti artists. These aren’t just any graffiti drawings. They are works of art. Some of the artists have become so famous they are commissioned for big money to paint walls. The most famous are identical twin brothers Otavio and Gutavo Pandolfo, who go by the name “Os Gemeos” (The Twins). Their work is on display on walls in Berlin, Moscow, Lisbon, New York City and in Miami’s Wynwood district.
∎ Loser: Brazilian napkins. They are small. Really small. More like cocktail napkins. And thin. Really thin. Like tissue paper. I found myself grabbing five or six at every meal.
∎ Winner: ESPN and Univision. Ratings for this World Cup smashed previous records, partly because of the time zone, but also because this tournament was really exciting. American fans have finally joined the world’s biggest sports party, and both networks did a good job of broadcasting the excitement back home.
∎ Loser: Asian soccer. There is intense interest in the sport in Asia and a lot of merchandise sales, but they had four teams here (Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia), and combined for zero wins.
∎ Winner: Heine Allemagne. He’s the Brazilian inventor of the magic foam spray being used by referees to keep the defensive wall 10 yards away on free kicks. The spray, officially called 9.15 Fair Play (the metric distance of the wall) vanishes in 60 seconds and has reportedly reduced the time of free kicks from 48 seconds to 20. Allemagne comes from a poor background and will likely get rich from the spray if it catches on worldwide. Right now, it is used only in Brazil.
∎ Loser: Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan star is one of the best players in the world and looked fantastic against England. But his habitual biting got him in trouble again. Suarez sank his teeth into the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, and Suarez was thrown out of the sport for four months.
∎ Winner: U.S. Soccer. They might not have attacked as much as promised, but the plucky Americans with their never-say-die spirit survived the Group of Death, lost only 1-0 to eventual champion Germany (which beat Portugal 4-0 and Brazil 7-1), and played their hearts out in a Round of 16 thriller against Belgium. Most important of all, they captivated millions of fans back home.
∎ Winner: Jorge Luis Pinto. The Costa Rican coach gained a world’s worth of respect for the job he did with a Ticos team nobody expected to advance. His tactics and leadership were big reasons the Costa Ricans did so well.
∎ Loser: Chilean fans. We admire them for being so passionate about their team, but invading the Estadio Maracana media center in an attempt to crash into the game without tickets was not a wise idea. The 85 overzealous fans were deported.
∎ Winners: The World Cup is ultimate audition for players, the place to be noticed by fans and scouts from every continent. Among those who had breakout performances were Divock Origi (Belgium), Xherdan “The Alpine Messi” Shaqiri (Switzerland), Memphis Depay (Netherlands), Matt Besler, Jermaine Jones and DeAndre Yedlin (United States) and Blaise Matuidi (France).
∎ Loser: Jozy Altidore’s hamstring. The American forward had been looking in form of late and was fired up for a big tournament after disappointing season for Sunderland in England. But he strained his hamstring in full stride early in the opening game against Ghana and never got a chance to play again.
∎ Winner: James Rodriguez. When Colombian star Falcao announced his surgically repaired knee was not recovered in time for the World Cup, Colombian fans (and most soccer experts) figured their tournament hopes were dashed. They were wrong. Rodriguez proved to be a star in his own right, scoring a tournament-leading six goals even though the Cafeteros were eliminated in the quarters.
∎ Winner, Then Loser: Axelle Despiegelaere. The pretty 17-year-old Belgian fan was shown on TV during Belgium’s group matches, the photos went viral and cosmetic giant L’Oreal offered a modeling contract. But they yanked it when they saw her Facebook page, which included a photo of her with a gun over a dead animal and the caption: Ready to hunt Americans.