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.

Malta captain mutes goal celebration after journalist slain

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Malta captain Andre Schembri says the car bomb slaying of a Maltese investigative journalist prompted him not to exult after scoring an historic goal.

Schembri’s temporary equalizer for Cypriot club Apollon in a 3-1 loss to Italian side Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday made him the first Maltese player to score in proper European competition – excluding qualifying.

[ PL PREVIEW: Saints vs. West Brom ]

But instead of pumping his fist or leaping in joy over the achievement, Schembri hung his head as teammates mobbed him.

Schembri wrote on Facebook on Friday, “Celebrating my goal didn’t feel right after what happened in Malta this week.”

Malta has been stunned since Monday by the slaying of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption reporter whose targets included Malta’s leading politicians.

“When they killed Daphne I wasn’t able to sleep for three nights,” Schembri told the ANSA news agency. “Malta is Europe, it’s not the third world. We need to be united when faced with grief like this, to say that we’re better than all of this.

“I love my country and with that goal it came naturally to me to think about a reporter’s freedom and the life of a mother of three children.”

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. West Bromwich Albion

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  • West Bromwich Albion hope to choose from goalkeepers Ben Foster (back) and Boaz Myhill (hamstring) for the trip to St Mary’s. Hal Robson-Kanu (strain), James Morrison (calf) and Oliver Burke (hamstring) will all be absent for the Baggies.
  • Southampton are again without Jeremy Pied but have no other injury concerns.
  • Of all teams to have met in at least seven different Premier League campaigns, Southampton v West Brom has the lowest goals-per-match ratio in the competition (21 in 14 matches, 1.5 per match). 
  • Dusan Tadic has been directly involved in a goal in each of his last three PL appearances against the Baggies (one goal, two assists).

Two mid-table sides meet up in the south of England as Southampton hosts West Bromwich Albion at 13:20 p.m. Saturday afternoon. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

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Both teams are struggling for form heading into the match. West Brom is winless in its last seven games while Southampton has just one win in its last five, coughing up a chance to defeat Newcastle a week ago.

It’s a big boost for Southampton though that Manolo Gabbiadini is back on the scoresheet after scoring twice against Newcastle. It was Gabbiadini’s first goal since the second week of the Premier League season.

At the other end, West Brom have a worry with both of its top two goalkeepers, Ben Forster and Boaz Myhill. recovering from injuries.

What they’re saying

Southampton manager Manuel Pellegrino on his team: “The reaction of the team was really good, but we have to start from the beginning with this spirit. Sometimes you have to be patient, because at the beginning teams have more energy, they are fresher and they can press you better. I think we feel comfortable with the ball. If we are precise with the ball and with our tempo, we can create more problems – it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We know that West Brom are really strong physically, and dangerous from set plays and on the counter-attack. That’s something we’ve been working on this week. Every single week we are learning from our last few games, and I feel that my players are better prepared.”

West Bromwich manager Tony Pulis on facing Southampton: “They’re a good footballing team. Pellegrino has come in with his own ideas and the way he wants to play. From watching them in a couple of games away from St Mary’s they seem a little more relaxed. They look a little more uptight at home. But I’m sure they’ll become the team everyone knows they can be.”

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Prediction

West Bromwich doesn’t look closer to stopping its slide down the table, especially on the road. Even with Jay Rodriguez returning to his former club, Southampton should find the offense to put Tony Pulis and West Brom away. Southampton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion

Watch Live: West Ham vs. Brighton and Hove Albion

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West Ham and Brighton kick off the weekend’s Premier League action at the London Stadium on Friday afternoon. (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN an online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Both teams have just eight points from eight games, and are looking to move up in the table with a win.

Manuel Lanzini makes his second consecutive start, playing behind Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in West Ham’s 4-2-3-1 formation. On the other side, Tomer Hemed sits his final match of his three-match suspension, with Glen Murray playing atop the 4-4-1-1 Brighton formation.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Hart; Zabaleta, Fonte, Reid, Masuaku; Kouate, Obiang; Antonio, Lanzini, Arnautovic; Chicharito Hernandez. Subs: Adrian, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Byram, Ayew, Noble, Fernandes

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan; Bong, Duffy, Dunk, Saltor; Izquierdo, Propper, Stephens, Knockaert; Gross; Murray. Subs: Krul, Goldson, Suttner, Schelotto, Molumby, March, Brown.

Report: FIFA considering updating international rules

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Under current FIFA rules, once a player plays a senior international competitive match, they’re cap-tied permanently to that nation. But that rule could be changing.

That’s according to a report from Reuters, which quotes CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani that FIFA could look into updating some of its nationality laws. Montagliani is the head of FIFA’s stakeholders committee.

“There are so many issues that have popped up over the years because the world is changing, immigration is changing,” Montagliani said. “There are nationality issues that pop up all over the world, in Africa, there are issues in Asia and CONCACAF, so its a good time to have a look at this and see if there are solutions, without hurting the integrity of the game.”

Changing the rules would have a big impact on nations with diverse populations or nationalities with large diasporas.

The report states the Cape Verdean FA requested relaxing the rule of cap-tying a player after playing a competitive game, if that player drops out of the player pool and likely wouldn’t be called up again. Cape Verde relies on a lot of Portugal-based and raised players with Cape Verdean heritage.

A relaxation of the rules could have an affect on U.S. Men’s National Team players as well. In theory, if Kenny Saief decided he wanted to play for Israel again, under a relaxation of the rules, and some sort of proof that a new USMNT coach wouldn’t call him up, Israel could potentially use him. In addition, players such as Cristian Roldan or Jesse Gonzalez could in theory be lost should they fall down the depth chart and other countries they’re eligible for.