The 11 greatest moments of the 2014 World Cup

Eleven of the most notable moments from the World Cup that's just finished. Come and relive the good times and the bad.

1. "Brazil, an intense dream"

Hindsight will insist that Brazil were eventually overwhelmed by their own passion; that they allowed a swelling sense of manifest destiny, tinged with tragedy, to override more prosaic concerns like 'defending' and 'passing to each other' and 'not playing like drunk children'.

Hindsight may even have a point. But back at the beginning, before everything went wrong, there was something touching and even beautiful about the first time that the music cut out, and the team along with their stadium sang the second half of the anthem a capella. The tournament hadn't even started yet, and we'd already been delivered of something unexpected and wonderful. A good sign for the neutrals, if not ultimately for Brazil.

2. Robin van Porpoise

The World Cup may technically have kicked off the previous day, but this was the moment that it really took off. As did Robin van Persie, the first footballer in the history of the game to literally leap like a salmon. There is some argument over whether this was the best goal of the tournament, but there can surely be none that it was the most ludicrous.

A header from that many yards out is special enough. A flying header from that many yards out is a bit silly. A deliberately and impudently lobbed flying header from that many yards out is the kind of goal that only ever gets scored in comic strips. KA-POW! Bonus content: the look on Iker Casillas' face; the butchery of the high-five; that it sparked one of the most hilarious dethronings in the history of international football.


3. Save of the tournament

It was a good competition for goalkeepers. Germany's Manuel Neuer ended up dominating things, but Mexico's Guillermo Ochoa, Tim Howard and Tim Krul all came out with reputations enhanced. As did Costa Rica's Keylor Navas, whose twitchy stylings concealed a keeper blessed with both astounding reactions and an almost perfect awareness of his penalty area.

Case in point. It's the first game of the tournament, and Uruguay are leading Costa Rica 1-0. Everything's going to form. From the left-hand corner of the box, Diego Forlan cracks a shot towards Navas' goal, and while the shot itself isn't too problematic, the wicked deflection it takes off the boot of Óscar Duarte threatens to send the ball looping into the net. The Central American side's glorious run to the quarter-finals is on the verge of crumbling into nothingness ... except for Navas. A slower keeper wouldn't have got anywhere near it. A less agile one would have simply ended up in the net with the ball. Navas, though, ended up in the net on his own, and ensured that one of the more heartwarming stories of the tournament wasn't strangled at birth.

4. Poor Gary Lewin

You'll need a bit of context here. When watching on television in company, the moments immediately after any goal are always a bit confused. It's not immediately clear what's going on, and nobody can hear anything over all the shouting. Some groups of England fans spent a good two minutes celebrating Raheem Sterling's side-netting 'goal' against Italy, for example. So when Daniel Sturridge tucked in the equaliser, and the cameras cut to a huddle of concerned looking staff around a prone body on the touchline, one terrible thought swept across the nation: oh my God, they've killed Roy Hodgson.

They hadn't, of course. Turns out that England's physiotherapist, Arsenal's Gary Lewin, had celebrated with such vigour that he'd managed to break his ankle on a water bottle. Sad for him, of course, as he was sent home to recover. A mixture of relief and respectful amusement for the rest of the nation. And, as he was stretchered off to an early exit after getting over-excited, a handy metaphor for England's World Cup.


England trainer Gary Lewin being stretchered off the field, Photo credit: Warren Little/Getty Images


Sometimes, things work out exactly as they're supposed to, and the scriptwriters get the respect they deserve. The USA get drawn against Ghana, the team that have knocked them out of the previous two tournaments. They take a super-early lead, but are pegged back. Things are tense. The scores are level; the game could go either way. And with games against Germany and Portugal to come, a victory is crucial.

So when the script calls for a unheralded, unexpected hero, send on somebody like John Brooks. And when it calls for the goal to come, send over a corner from the right and have him arrive in the box, unmarked and untroubled, to sproing the ball off his forehead and into the net. And when it calls for a celebration, have Brooks stagger around with his arms open, his eyes empty and his mouth ajar in something that might be a smile and might be profound shock, a stupefied Tardelli, while everybody else goes bonkers around him. That'll work.

6. Algeria finally get their win

The USA's Ghana-ghosts come from recent tournaments; Algeria, by contrast, came into the tournament bearing the weight of 1982 around their shoulders. Then, their brilliant side tuned up, slapped the reigning champions Germany all over the place, before being denied a place in the knockout stages by Germany, Austria and a 1-0 win of striking, stinking convenience.

Since then, 1986 and 2010 had come and gone without a win and without much to commend them, and the first game of 2014 had ended in a narrow defeat to Belgium. South Korea were up, and the Fennec Foxes, already assured of the tournament's coolest nickname, were in no mood to be merciful. They tore into their opponents, notching three before half-time and ending up 4-2 winners. And then they, players and fans alike, celebrated like ... well, like a side who'd been looking for a win for 32 years. There were better sides at the World Cup, but there weren't many to whom it all meant so much.

7. Mmm ... Italian ...

Well, obviously. Having shown the English media exactly what he thought of them in the previous game -- take that, evil horrid writers who voted him player of the last season! -- the world was agog with anticipation as to what might happen when Luis Suarez got his teeth into It ... no, no, you deserve better than that.

As with the last time he bit somebody (and what a peculiar sentence to have to write that is), the incident unfolded in two parts. The first: no, he hasn't. He can't have done. Not again. And then second: he has! He has! Oh wow, he has! And then laughter, and more laughter, and extra laughter, and laughter again when his first self-serving parody of an apology emerged, and ... well, it's still funny now, particularly as the subsequent ban meant that Barcelona have had to unveil a mannequin wearing his shirt, as he's banned from entering any football stadium.


But in some ways, Suarez did the world a favour. By completing his bite-trick, the world is finally able to stop trying to manufacture some kind of redemption narrative out of the false dichotomy between biting and racially abusing people on the one hand, and scoring goals on the other. Finally we can all be at peace with the idea that a man can be, at the same time, a really good player and a godforsaken arsehole. Enjoy him, Barcelona. He really is more than a footballer.

8. Pinilla! No!

One hundred and nineteen minutes gone, and it's 1-1 against Brazil. The Chileans, by some distance the best side to watch of the World Cup, have completely discombobulated their grand neighbours with their quick-tempo high-pressing all-attacking approach, yet they've been on the back foot for much of the second half of extra-time, as the hosts push them back and the lactic acid starts to build in the legs.

Then, the chance. The one chance that every team always gets. Mauricio Pinilla exchanges passes with Alexis Sanchez and wriggles himself a yard of free space on the edge of the box. He fires the ball towards the goal, and the entire tournament, already plenty ridiculous, hangs in the balance for a fraction of a fraction of a second ...

... then the ball twangs into the bar and back into play. Heartbreak for Chile. Relief for Brazil. And, weirdly, a tattoo for Pinilla, who decided that the best way to get over the moment he didn't quite pull off one of the great World Cup scalpings was to have it inked onto his skin in perpetuity. Everybody finds their own way of dealing.

9. The vertebra heard round the world

It is impossible to watch footage of Neymar sustaining his injury without wincing, and it has been ever since the nature of his injury was diagnosed. He broke his back. Or rather, somebody else broke his back for him. People don't break their backs/have their backs broken playing football. It's not meant to happen.

At the time, though, it didn't look like a back-breaking tackle. (What even would one of those look like? Well, we know now.) It was a clumsy challenge, yes, but then players go through one anothers' backs all the time, and the referee, admittedly not having a great game, didn't even whistle for a foul. And Neymar looked hurt, yes, and that feeling grew as he was tipped into the stretcher and carried straight down the tunnel, of course, but still. He was Neymar, and this was the World Cup in Brazil, and he was obviously going to be fine. He had to be. If he weren't, well, it just wouldn't be fair.


He wasn't. His back was broken, and so, it turned out, was Brazil's. While the fallout hit some hysterical peaks -- taking in allegations of criminality against his assailant, a FIFA investigation, rumours of surprise comebacks, a televised address from a hospital bed and an almost overwhelming tone of grief -- it was one of the few notes of genuine, resounding sadness that this World Cup delivered.

A wet blanket throne over a nation that was partying its way through the night. An absolute joy of a footballer, removed from the tournament with an injury so freakish as to be nearly unprecedented. It wasn't fair. Not on him, and not on the rest of us.

10. Seven minutes from hell

"Conceding an early goal can happen to anyone. Yes, Thomas Muller was rather spectacularly alone in the middle of the Brazilian box, but replays demonstrate that the Germans were doing some clever blocking at the front. Plenty of time yet. Nothing to- oh, they've scored again.

"Well, sure, that's not ideal. But there's still- oh, they've scored again.

"Right, this is a bit embarrassin- oh, they've scored again.

"Er. Well. Um. Who's on the ben- oh, they've scored again."


11. Mario Götze wins the World Cup

If the final isn't going to be great game, then the moment that decides the final should at least contain within it something emblematic. Something appropriate. In 2010 it was scored by Andres Iniesta, one of the Barcelona players who embodies the style that made his club and country great. And that was fitting. Equally fitting, too, is the fact that it was Mario Götze who scored a late-game winner to clinch 2014 for Germany.

When Germany crashed out of Euro 2000, finishing below even England in their group, Götze was eight years old and about to enter Borussia Dortmund's youth academy. As he grew into the footballer he is today, German football reconfigured itself from the bottom up, determined to ensure that their future could stand against the glories of the past. To produce a generation of technicians who could win the World Cup. To not finish beneath England again.

Götze made his debut for Dortmund in 2009-10, a season that ended with Germany finishing third in South Africa. Four years later, he's scored the goal that's won the tournament; a beautiful, delicate finish of immense technical difficulty performed on the biggest stage with a casual, almost insulting ease. This was the plan; to make footballers like Götze. Job very much done.


Honourable mentions (in no particular order) ...

Joe Fletcher's handshake snub; Steven Gerrard diving after passing close to a referee; Bryan Ruiz scoring against Italy; James scoring against Uruguay; Univision commentary; Colombia's dancing; Klose breaking the record; Rojo's rabona; Iker Casillas crawling on his knees; Alex Song's elbow; Greece finally learning that attack can be fun; the BBC's Jonathan Pearce producing the finest display of anti-technology suspicion and fear since Ned Ludd ...

[deep breath]

... Diego Benaglio's overhead kick; Switzerland hitting the bar; Charles Aranguiz's Julian Dicks impression; Enyeama and the referee talking about Messi; the fake story of Ronaldo's haircut; Jermaine Jones; singing mascots; the increasing confusion among the world's journalists at which objects they were and weren't allowed to take into the stadiums, which peaked when Rob Harris of the the Associated Press had a pack of nine small bread rolls confiscated ...

[deep breath]

... Rodriguez's gargantuan grasshopper; Wayne Rooney's corner; Honduras getting back to basics against the French; the French being rude to the Swiss; TIM CAHILL?!?!?!?!?!?; Mascherano tearing himself a new one; the foam; Sepp Blatter getting booed everywhere he went; Sabella fainting; Muller's free-kick routine; Mexico's Robben pinata; Mark Bresciano helping with shoelaces; Jan Åge Fjørtoft investigating Luis Suarez by biting himself on the arm ...

... what a tournament. What a tournament

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