Story of the World Cup: Reviewing the guts, glory, glamour of Brazil 2014

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The 2014 World Cup may have been the best World Cup in history.

There. I said it. Right off the bat.

After a month of some of the best soccer the planet has ever witnessed, you may be on somewhat of a comedown with the World Cup done and dusted. As the Germans parade the trophy around Berlin, don’t fret, we are here to review the whole shebang.

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From Spain’s shocking exit, the U.S. capturing the imaginations of a nation and much more, here’s your comprehensive review of the 2014 World Cup.

Oh yeah, stay logged onto ProSoccerTalk from Monday to Wednesday this week (and every day… but these days especially) as we have all kinds of World Cup reviews coming your way.

The rise of CONCACAF…

For the first time in history three CONCACAF teams reached the knockout stages of the World Cup. That’s very impressive. The U.S. and Mexico both performed extremely well to make it out of their groups, while Costa Rica stunned everyone and won group D ahead of Italy, England and Uruguay. Los Ticos then made it all the way to the quarterfinals where they eventually lost to the Netherlands on PKs. Costa Rica had the support of the U.S. and the entire region, as the rest of the world sat up and applauded CONCACAF’s efforts.  The President of CONCACAF, Jeffrey Webb, has declared himself a proud man and rightly so. Does this strong showing mean that another automatic World Cup berth is heading CONCACAF’s way?

European giants crash out… 

Spain. Italy. England. Portugal. Croatia. Russia (they qualify via UEFA). All six had legitimate hopes of going far at the World Cup. All six nations were packing their bags after the group stage. The biggest shock was reigning champions Spain being hammered 5-1 by the Netherlands in their opener, then losing 2-0 to Chile and being out of the tournament just six days after it started. Yeah, Vicente del Bosque’s men gave up their title as World Champions with a whimper. England, Portugal and Italy underperformed, while Russia and Croatia were pretty shocking in very poor groups. Despite a European team winning the tournament, the usual suspects struggled in Brazil. Is this the end for Spain’s golden generation and their domination of the global game?

Top 10 goals | PST’s best XI | Top 10 moments | Top stats | Grades

Goals, goals, goals…

With 171 goals, this World Cup had the most goals of any World Cup ever. Tied with the 1998 tournament, which also had 171, that averaged out to 2.67 goals per game. We had a 7-1, 5-1, 4-0, 5-2 and generally goals galore. If you aren’t big on dissecting tactical, defensive battles and would rather see the onion bag rippled on multiple occasions, this World Cup was for you. Here are the top 10 goals, as compiled by PST. Not too shabby, eh?

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Huge crowds turned up at Soldier Field in Chicago as watch parties become a huge part of the summer.

USA, USA, USA: the birth (re-birth?) of a soccer nation?

The scenes in cities all across the USA during the World Cup were a sight to behold. Tens of thousands of fans gathering in Chicago, Kansas City, LA, New York City and every other major city you can think of. The fact that Brazil slotted in with U.S. time-zones was incredibly important in the huge viewing figures witnessed in the USA. Forget about figures and all of the other measurable. You got the sense that soccer is becoming a mainstream sport in the U.S. and the enthusiasm, passion and every other hallmark of fandom is spreading to people and places where the sport is still struggling to become established. Every four years these feelings crop up, as you see the huge outpouring of emotion towards Team USA. However this time round it seems  to be sticking around. That’s the hope.

We had Teddy Goalsevelt out in Recife guiding U.S. fans through the rising floodwater’s (seriously, it was like a monsoon), Hulk Hogan, Mike Tyson and Will Ferrell (in Brazil) firing the players up to fight for the Stars and Stripes. Everyone seemed to have afternoons off to watch the games as the entire country came to a standstill. Chants of “I believe that we will win!” took over the brains of U.S. fans and regular Americans. Fans of the USA were everywhere in Brazil, over 20,000 were at the opener in Natal. From the delirium on show for John Brooks’ late winner against Ghana to the delight of Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scoring against Portugal, the American Outlaws stood by their side every step of the way in South America. A study from Cambridge University stated that the three most used words worldwide to sum up the USA’s effort in Brazil were “Determined. Heroic. Courageous.” The country felt: Proud. Involved. Hopeful.

source: AP
Howard became a one man band against Belgium.

Maybe, just maybe, in the future we will look back to the 2014 World Cup as the tournament where soccer finally latched onto the hearts of the American people and never let go. Whatever the outcome, the performance of Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad (getting out of the “Group of Death” and the going 12 rounds with Belgium in what resembled a remake of Rocky IV) was inspiring and players like DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green gave plenty of hope for the future of the U.S. national team. The USMNT are heading in one direction: up.

Howard stands on his head…

Tim Howard made 15 saves in the USA’s 2-1 defeat to Belgium in the second round. He was personally thanked by President Barack Obama, briefly appointed as the USA’s Secretary of Defense (according to Wikipedia) and the #ThingsHowardCouldSave craze become one of the sensations of the World Cup. His stunning display to keep Belgium at bay elevate him as one of the top five goalkeepers in the world, and the best ‘keeper the U.S. has ever seen. With his beard in magnificent form and Howard’s menacing looks adorning every stop he made, the Everton star became a folk hero forever in the hearts of USMNT fans. With 27 saves, Howard was the busiest ‘keeper at the entire World Cup and the U.S. only played in four games. Bravo, Tim.

“Twenty-two players chase the ball for 90 minutes and in the end, the Germans win….”

For the first time since 1990 Germany clinched the World Cup title as Mario Gotze’s moment of magic beat Argentina in extra time. They deserved this one. Big time. They were the top scorers in the tournament with 18 goals, smashed the host nation 7-1 in the semifinal and this squad has been on the edge of greatness for so long. Finally they won a trophy by winning the World Cup in Brazil. Here is all you need to know about Germany’s new national hero, Gotze.

Three bites, you’re out…

Luis Suarez lost the plot in Uruguay’s 1-0 win over Italy in the group stages. Off the ball he ran past Giorgio Chiellini and bit the Italian defender. That’s right, not for the first or second time in his career, but the third, Suarez sunk his teeth into an opponent. It was disgusting, despicable and downright disgraceful. Suarez was handed a four-month ban by FIFA, fined over $100,000 and missed the rest or Uruguay’s World Cup (their round of 16 game where Colombia taught them a lesson). He has since been sold to Barcelona for $130 million by Liverpool, who haven’t publicly lambasted Suarez but another bite was likely the final straw.

source: Getty Images
Suarez bit Italian defender Chiellini as the Uruguayan bit another player for the third-time in his career.

Chile, Colombia showcase South American depth…

Adding flair, poise and flavor to the World Cup, Brazil’s South American neighbors put on a real show on their home continent. Colombia were the darlings of the tournament as their young squad spearheaded by James Rodriguez (more on him shortly) and missing superstar Radamel Falcao, dazzled neutrals with their fluid attacks and swaggering panache. Chile should have knocked out hosts Brazil in the round of 16 but Mauricio Pinilla hit the crossbar in extra time and Brazil edged through on PKs. With Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, Chile beat Spain and Australia comfortably and showed they are set to stick around on the world stage. Along with Colombia (who were also knocked out unconvincingly by Brazil) South America has become a continent crackling with top class national teams. Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay all made the knockout stage.

James (pronounced HA-MIS) shines, as a star is born…

Heading into the tournament not many people earmarked James Rodriguez as the Golden Boot winner. With six goals and two assists the 23-year-old Colombian excelled and scoring some stunning goals. His chest control, then swerving volley from distance against Uruguay was the goal of the tournament. He only scored nine goals for AS Monaco last season in Ligue 1 after a big money move from FC Porto, but Rodriguez may now be on the move again as Europe’s elite queue up to sign the star of the summer.

Tweet, tweet…

This was the first World Cup where Twitter truly took over. More people Tweeted about this World Cup than any other sporting event in history. Germany’s incredible 7-1 win over Brazil almost broke the social media site, as over 35 million messages were sent about that match. That was a record for a sporting event on Twitter, as the previous best was Seattle’s Super Bowl win back in February, that had 25 million Tweets.

source: AP
Rodroguez’s stunner opened the scoring, as Colombia’s tremendous tournament won them plenty of friends.

Endless Extra Time…

We certainly got our money’s worth this summer! Five of the eight round of 16 matches went to extra time (two of which went to penalty kicks) and overall eight of the 16 knockout matches went to extra time. Tension, pressure, moments of magic… we had it all. From the goalkeeping heroics of Keylor Navas, Tim Krul and Julio Cesar in penalty kicks to the despair of being dumped out when the tank is empty and you’ve given all you have (see: Belgium 2-1 U.S.). This World Cup was both beautiful and brutal. Entire nations held their breath, celebrated, cried and consoled each other in unison. The tension of extra time intensified these emotions. Is it time to bring back the golden goal, though?

Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Suarez…

Okay, the star players we were all keeping an eye on before the World Cup didn’t really set the thing alight like we expected… did they? Messi won the Golden Ball (albeit somewhat shockingly) as the best player of the tournament but many would argue if he was the best player on Argentina’s roster, yet alone the tournament. Anyway, Neymar bagged four goals (like Messi) but the big story surrounding him was his brutal back injury at the quarterfinal stage. In fits and starts we saw the real Neymar but the Brazil fell apart without Neymar and the entire country were praying he somehow recovered from a broken bone in his back in days, rather than weeks. Cristiano Ronaldo, and his Portugal side, were perhaps the biggest disappointment of the tournament. Ronaldo bent in a beauty of a cross late on against the U.S. to set up the equalizer and scored against Ghana, but Portugal were dumped out and Ronaldo was robbed of showing the world what he’s made of in his prime. Suarez? Well, we’ve covered that. He let himself, his country and his team down. Inexcusable.

source: AP
Neymar’s injury was the main story for Brazil, as their star man was ruled out.

Concussions come to the fore…

In the U.S. we’ve got to hear ESPN’s Taylor Twellman and his thought on concussions in soccer. The lack of sincerity shown towards the issue by FIFA became a real concern as the tournament progressed. It seemed like every other day, at least, we were discussing what FIFA is going to do to try and protect players and to stop players playing on after receiving serious head injuries. From Uruguay’s Alvaro Perreira carrying on and waving away doctors to Germany’s Christoph Kramer trying to carry on but having to come off dazed and confused in the final, we saw head injuries in soccer up close this summer. It was ugly to see players treated like Roman Gladiators. We are in the 21st century. New measures are needed before more serious damage occurs. NBC News has more details on concussions in soccer.

Protests? What protests? 

Remember before the World Cup, back in early June, when everyone and their mother was predicting huge violent protests from the Brazilian people and mass brawls to breakout in the favelas? What happened to those? Okay, without being behind-the-scenes we had to rely on the media reports we received, but hardly any of the news was negative apart from the odd FIFA ticket scandal here and there. Even that was bush league stuff.

source: Getty Images
Close, but not quite close enough for the Oranje.

Dutch courage…

HUP! Holland were breath of fresh air under Louis van Gaal as they deployed a 5-3-2 formation which bamboozled the opposition and showcased their attacking talents. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie led by example in the group stage and Holland rode their impressive 5-1 demolition of Spain all the way to the semifinal where they lost on PKs to Argentina. The Dutch were revived under incoming Manchester United boss LVG and the World Cup was a better place for it. HUP! Honorable mention: France performed wonderfully and Didier Deschamps has a superb young squad with the likes of Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba leading the way. Bright future for the French.

So, what do we do now?

Sit tight, twiddle our thumbs and wait for four years for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Apparently it is going to be the most expensive tournament in history with Vladimir Putin set to spend $20 BILLION on the showpiece event. Between now and then, you can watch the Premier League (who delivered more players to the WC than any other league) every weekend live on NBC Sports from August until May.

We’ve got your soccer fix sorted, right here.

FIFA probe: Al-Khelaifi confirms his presence in Switzerland

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi says he will go to Switzerland next Wednesday to answer questions from Swiss prosecutors investigating the suspected bribery of a top FIFA executive for World Cup broadcasting rights.

Criminal proceedings against Al-Khelaifi, who is also CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, and an unnamed businessman working in sports rights were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general last week.

The case involves the award of broadcast rights for the next four World Cups from 2018 through 2030.

Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have offered advantages to Valcke – FIFA’s CEO-like secretary general from 2007 until his firing in January 2016 – for the award of media rights in certain countries for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.

Speaking Wednesday night on Canal Plus television, after PSG’s 4-0 win away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, Al-Khelaifi confirmed his trip to Switzerland.

“I have an appointment on the 25th. I will go there to speak with them, the Swiss (authorities),” said Khelaifi, who attended Wednesday’s match in Belgium. “That’s all.”

The proceeding against Al-Khelaifi is one of the first direct links to Qatar in sweeping investigations by federal law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, the United States, and France concerning FIFA, international soccer, and the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Last week, the Paris offices of BeIN Sports were searched. Properties were searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland.

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

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The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Probe finds racial discrimination by England women’s coach

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LONDON (AP) Former England women’s team coach Mark Sampson racially discriminated against two of his players, a fresh Football Association investigation has concluded after initially dismissing allegations of wrongdoing and prompting a damaging public row with striker Eni Aluko.

Sampson was cleared of discrimination by earlier FA investigations but was fired last month because of an unrelated case of inappropriate conduct toward players in a previous job.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Only now has a barrister considered new evidence about Sampson’s conduct toward England internationals Aluko and Drew Spence, with the details being released ahead of a parliamentary hearing.

“I have concluded that on two separate occasions, MS (Sampson) has made ill-judged attempts at humor, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race,” barrister Katharine Newton wrote in the report.

One racially discriminatory comment by Sampson in 2014 toward Aluko requested her family members from Nigeria didn’t come to a game because of Ebola.

“MS (Sampson) did treat EA (Aluko) less favorably than he would have treated a player who was not of African descent,” Newton wrote. “MS had therefore subjected EA to less favorable treatment because of her ethnicity.”

During a team meeting in 2015, Sampson also asked Spence if she had been to prison, and then suggested she had been arrested four times. Newton concluded that the comment was made “because of her ethnicity.”

[ MORE: Hamid leaving DC United ]

FA chief executive Martin Glenn apologized to Aluko and Spence before the hearing. But Aluko told legislators that Glenn’s earlier conduct toward her was “bordering on blackmail” after he threatened to withhold payments from an 80,000 pound ($105,000) financial settlement unless she published a statement saying the FA “was not institutionally racist.”

With Aluko sitting behind him, Glenn later told the hearing that the player had not been blackmailed.

Instead Glenn said that an August tweet by Aluko – “at least we now know the FA’s stance on derogatory racial remarks by an England manager. Ignore, deny, endorse” – was a “clear breach of the agreement.”

Aluko, who was part of the team that finished third at the 2015 World Cup, has not played for England since making her 102nd appearance in April 2016.

There was a more apologetic tone from Glenn in his written statement on Wednesday, saying that Sampson’s conduct was “not acceptable” and he “would like to sincerely apologize” to Aluko and Spence.

“Our ambition has always been to find the truth and take swift and appropriate action if needed,” Glenn said. “It was our decision to have the original, second and final investigation to ensure that due diligence was taken. It is regrettable that Eniola did not participate in the first external investigation as this would have enabled Katharine Newton to conduct and complete her investigation sooner.”

Report: Hamid leaving DC United to “push himself” elsewhere

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Bill Hamid is taking his talents elsewhere.

The 26-year-old has been with DC United since 2007, making an even 200 appearances across all competitions.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Hamid is thrice capped by the United States and widely considering to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, but the Washington Post’s Steven Goff says Hamid wants to showcase himself on a new stage.

“I want to push myself and see how far I can go because I know I have the work ethic and the hunger to take myself very far in this game. I know I can make it to the next level.”

Hamid is likely to wind up in Europe, and Goff said Danish club Midtjylland is the favorite. He’s also been scouted by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With a new United States men’s national team coach set to be appointed and Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando all on the back end of their time with the USMNT, Hamid has to look at himself as competing with Ethan Horvath and any number of young prospects.

Horvath is 22 and starting for Club Brugge. If their season continues on its pace, he’ll have a Belgian title and a Norwegian title under his belt.

U-20 players Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), Brady Scott (Koln), and Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf) are in German systems, while U-17 World Cup starters CJ dos Santos is at Benfica.

Age when making European debut and club
Tim Howard, 24, Manchester United
Brad Friedel, 23, Newcastle United
Brad Guzan, 23, Aston Villa
Kasey Keller, 23, Millwall
Tony Meola, 21, Brighton and Hove Albion
Ethan Horvath, 19, Molde