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.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.

Report: Arsenal owner calls Bellerin to state intentions

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According to a report by Spanish radio station Cadena SER, Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has personally called defender Hector Bellerin to tell the Spaniard he would not be sold.

The 22-year-old experienced a serious regression at the Emirates last season, and with media speculation surrounding his potential departure, Kroenke wanted to make sure his intentions were clear. Reports had linked Bellerin with a return to his home country, most notably to Barcelona.

With Bellerin under contract through 2021 having just signed his extension last summer, it’s clear the club has decided who they believe keeping should be a priority.

The defender lost his place briefly down the stretch run last season, finding himself on the bench in seven of the club’s final 17 Premier League matches. Despite that, Arsenal still clearly values Bellerin’s talent and durability and hope to ward Barcelona’s interest off. Bellerin didn’t help cool speculation when he bought a house in Barcelona just a short time ago.

Reports say that Arsenal would not take any less than $57 million for their right-back.

Watch Live: Mexico vs. Russia, NZ vs. Portugal

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Group A comes to a close on Saturday, with a pair of spots in the semifinals on the line. The group is jam-packed at the top, with nobody confirmed on to the next round and only New Zealand eliminated.

Russia meets group-leaders Mexico at 11:00 a.m. ET in Kazan, with the hosts needing a win to advance, while a draw would complicate things for Stanislav Cherchesov’s squad. Mexico needs just a draw to confirm advancement.

WATCH LIVE: Mexico vs. Russia live online at Telemundo Deportes

Mexico has brought back its first-choice lineup for the final group stage match, with a number of rotations made in the near-disaster against New Zealand. However, Carlos Salcedo is out with a dislocated shoulder, bringing Nestor Araujo into the starting lineup. Hector Moreno starts despite his injury concerns.

On the other side, Portugal takes on New Zealand with a chance to win the group still intact. Portugal sits in second position currently, level with Mexico on both points and goal difference, but behind by one on goals scored. Should Portugal win and earn a greater goal difference or outscore Mexico by more than one, they would win the group.

WATCH LIVE: Portugal vs. New Zealand live online at Telemundo Deportes

Cristiano Ronaldo starts for Portugal yet again, fresh off his match-winning goal against Russia. They see both full-backs rotated from that match, with Raphael Guerreiro and Cedric rotated for Eliseu and Nelson Semedo.

New Zealand has already been eliminated, without a point thus far in the competition despite a pair of spirited performances for the Group A underdogs.

LINEUPS

Mexico: Ochoa, Moreno, Reyes, Layun, Araujo, Herrera, Guardado, J dos Santos, Hernandez, Lozano, Vela.

Russia: Akinfeev, Jikia, Kudryashov, Vasin, Glushakov, Erokhin, Bukharov, Samedov, Smolov, Zhirkov, Golovin.


Portugal: Patricio, Alves, Pepe, Eliseu, Semedo, Moutinho, Pereira, B Silva, Quaresma, Ronaldo, A Silva.

New Zealand: Marinovic, Durante, Smith, Boxall, Doyle, Ingham, Rojas, Thomas, McGlinchey, Wood, Lewis.