As the dust settles in the aftermath of a riotous World Cup, it is time to review the hottest moments of Brazil 2014. From the astounding to the absurd, here are the tournament’s most memorable moments.
The G.R.R. Martin Award for Most Devastating Result:
Brazil 1-7 Germany
The stars aligned that night in Belo Horizonte, and they aligned all wrong for Brazil. 50,000 voices roared out the national anthem before kickoff. 50,000 voices had been stunned into silence by the time the final whistle blew.
With Neymar out and Thiago Silva suspended, it was always going to be a hairy match for the host nation. Thomas Müller kicked it off with a goal in the 11th minute, at which point the Brazilian defense already looked less than dependable. It seemed only a matter of time before Müller scored — and then Klose followed up, with a record-breaking 16th World Cup goal to surpass Ronaldo in the history books.
And that’s when it happened: Kroos struck once, twice; fans rubbed their eyes in disbelief, and Khedira made it 5-0. Germany had scored the fastest four goals in World Cup history. The visitors demonstrated a masterclass in teamwork, and Brazil were, quite simply, taken to school. Andre Schürrle bagged two more in the second half, and what had begun as a breathless, frenetic affair ended in suffocating defeat for Brazil. Oscar’s 90th minute goal was scant consolation.
The “Mineirazo”, as media dubbed the rout, goes down as the biggest winning margin in a World Cup semifinal, Brazil’s worst-ever defeat at home, and their first since 1975 — a streak that had lasted 62 competitive matches on native soil. It is almost impossible to characterize such a lopsided result in terms of merit. You can only name it as it was experienced: unforgettable, for good or for ill.
Honorable mention: Spain’s 1-5 collapse against the Netherlands.
The Roberto Carlos Award for Most Improbable Goal:
Tim Cahill vs. Netherlands
Was it the most significant goal of the tournament? No. Was it the most spectacular? Arguably. Was it the best of the ones you expected the least? Definitely.
When that hail-mary of a long pass came sailing in, it looked destined to be shuffled about for a bit and eventually lost to either a corner or goal kick. That’s probably what De Vrij thought. Tim Cahill, however, had other thoughts — like taking one look at the ball’s flight path and meeting it dead-on with a left-footed volley, to send the ball torpedoing past Cillessen, off the crossbar, and into the net.
Technical perfection in the face of staggering improbability. After the Netherlands’ 5-1 rout of Spain, few would have put money on Australia to come any closer to troubling Van Gaal’s men. Yet Cahill did just that with his equalizer, as Australia went on to lose 2-3 to the eventual semifinalists. A world-class goal from a 34-year-old MLS player, for a team whose greatest contribution to the tournament, arguably, the inflatable kangaroo seen floating about the stands — this wasn’t in anybody’s script. And yet there it was. And isn’t that, really, a bit of what football’s all about?
Honorable mention: John Brooks’ 86th-minute winner for the USMNT over Ghana. And the ensuing goal celebration, for the watching fans could all swear, in that moment, they were infinite (or, at least, American).
The Michael Ballack Award for Most Tragic Loss:
Netherlands 2-1 Mexico
“Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores.” So goes the mariachi refrain heard in the stands. Sing, and don’t cry. But even the most upbeat heart might have quailed by the end of Mexico’s round of sixteen loss to the Netherlands.
Having dominated the first half, Mexico broke the deadlock in the 48th minute through an absolute blinder from Giovani dos Santos. Their lead seemed secure; one goal looked to be more than enough when Guillermo Ochoa looked more unassailable than a Mumbai traffic jam. But the Netherlands found a way back, as Sneijder equalized in the 88th minute to send the match into extra time. Then Arjen Robben made the decisive move — cutting into the box, dodging Reyes, falling to Marquez’s outstretched foot, and registering a philosophical question for the ages: was it a dive?
Miguel Herrera roundly condemned the last-gasp, match-deciding penalty. “If we had been knocked out by a great goal, fine,” said the Mexico manager, “that’s football.” But to be defeated by an “invented” foul was too much to bear.
Honorable mentions: Belgium 2-1 USA, for Tim Howard’s heroic goalkeeping. Netherlands 0(4)-0(3) Costa Rica, for the way Los Ticos held out for 120 minutes but couldn’t save themselves in the end.
The Jürgen Klopp Award for Best Touchline Reaction:
Alejandro Sabella, Argentina vs. Belgium
The moments of managerial magic have been many. But Alejandro Sabella takes the cake with this Chaplin-esque slow-motion near tumble, in reaction to Gonzalo Higuain hitting the bar.
Honorable mention: Belgium 2-1 USA, Jürgen Klinsmann reaction to just one minute of stoppage time being added on.
The Hans Christian Anderson Award for Best Fairytale Ending:
Miroslav Klose came into this tournament having just turned 36 and quite content to sit on the bench as, it appeared, a Plan B understudy to Germany’s new 4-3-3 revolution. He was one goal shy of a world record. He had played in three previous World Cups and watched his team come close time and again, only to fall at the penultimate hurdle.
Klose leaves this tournament as a world champion and the all-time leading goalscorer in World Cup finals. He leaves having equalized for Germany against Ghana, having scored against Brazil in that historic rout, and having played a solid 88 minutes of the final against Argentina. He left the pitch on Sunday, substituted by Mario Götze, who would go on to score the winner in extra time.
Some stories seem almost too good to be true. The player who won a match for Germany on his international debut, who is Germany’s top goalscorer but insists he will never be mentioned with the likes of Gerd Müller in the same breath; the man who came into the World Cup with an eye toward history, but more toward his team’s success; and who now leaves with both, and more. Hats off to Miroslav Klose. Sometimes, a story that good really can be true.
Honorable mention: David Villa’s cheeky backheel goal in his last appearance for Spain, in a dead rubber against Australia, after a trainwreck of a Group Stage for the defending champions. Not all fairytales end in happily ever afters. But Villa demonstrated his class to the end, and the genius of that goal will remain memorable for its finesse as well as finality.
Other memorable moments:
Costa Rica’s run to the quarterfinals. Algeria’s 4-2 victory over South Korea. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first-ever World Cup goal. Colombia’s goal celebrations. Greece’s lethal counterattacking.
James Rodriguez’s six goals in five matches. Robin van Persie’s porpoise-like header. Keylor Navas’ save against Uruguay. Mauricio Pinilla hitting the bar. Diego Benaglio’s overhead kick.
Portugal stunning the USA with a 95th-minute equalizer. Thomas Müller slipping and falling while running up to a free kick. Luis Suarez slipping and falling teeth-first into Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder. The Brazilian team and fans singing the national anthem a cappella when the music cut out.
Congratulations Germany on a tournament well won. Congratulations to all the teams who made this a tournament to remember.