Goodbye, dear friends. The time we spent together was altogether too short, but worry not. Your memory will live in our hearts forever. Or at least, until the next World Cup.
Australia gave us Tim Cahill's goal
The wondrous turn-and-volley executed by James Rodríguez drove Tim Cahill's goal against Netherlands right out of most people's minds. But this goal deserves to be remembered; in fact, it deserves to be savored. Just a minute after Arjen Robben put Holland ahead, here came Cahill, screaming up the left. It looked as though the long ball from Ryan McGowan would be nothing more than speculative, but Cahill stuck out his left foot, smashing the ball toward goal, where it struck the crossbar before dropping into the back of the net. An absolutely gorgeous goal, and a fantastic way for the 34-year-old to mark what was likely his last game with the Socceroos.
Spain gave someone else a chance
Many thought Spain - cup holders and winners of back-to-back European Championships - were beatable this time around. But very few imagined that they'd be the second side eliminated from the tournament. An aging squad were unable to play the possession-based game that had made Spain nearly invincible. Shoehorning a still-hurting Diego Costa into the squad did little to change matters. This team deserves to be remembered for the way they changed the game, but it was time they backed away and let others have their chance at the spotlight.
England got Luis Suárez sent home
Wait, wait, you're thinking of Italy.
No. It was the English media that lead the vicious campaign against Suárez, prompting FIFA to ban him for nine games and four months, and thus dumping Uruguay out of the World Cup. In a way, it's good that their fantastic smear campaign worked. Otherwise, there'd still be plenty of attention being focused on what went wrong this time around, on why even bringing the kids didn't manage to reverse England's poor fortunes. It was all a bit of genius on the part of the English media, really.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will revel in the blushes of youth
Bosnia were the only debutantes at the 2014 World Cup, but they've got the talent to be right back on the biggest stage four years from now. It's easy to place some of the blame for their early exit on wide-eyed naivete: Sead Kolašinac scored an own goal just three minutes into their first game, Muhamed Bešić was tasked with stopping Lionel Messi. Yet, despite being just 21 years of old, both were among the brightest of the bunch. In fact, it was the old legs of Emir Spahic and Zvjezdan Misimović that caused the most problems. Bringing in a new coach that nurtures the young talent and knows how to get the most out of 24-year-old Miralem Pjanic could well make this side one to be reckoned with.
Cameroon provided a brief moment of excitement
For two minutes on June 23, the world held its breath. Cameroon had scored their first goal of the tournament, but were trailing Brazil 3-1. Meanwhile, Mexico were up 3-0 on Croatia. One wrong move, and it was Mexico going through on top of Group A, not the hosts. But then Croatia scored, and Brazil scored, and Cameroon faded away once more. Their 2014 tournament will be remembered not for their play - except, perhaps, its poorness - but for their refusal to get on the plane to Brazil and the allegations that they were involved in fixing the match against Croatia.
Croatia bared their bottoms
This entry should've been about the brilliance of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric. Instead, Niko Kovač shoehorned his most talented players into the side, creating a situation in which the playmakers seemed to cancel each other out. And with the 4-0 win over Cameroon now being investigated to determine if any match-fixing occurred, that leaves us most missing Croatia's nude photos. The peeping pap caught the players frolicking naked in the swimming pool, giving fans around the world the chance to glimpse the fine figure of a few honed athletes.
Italy gave us Andrea Pirlo, Italy will take away Andrea Pirlo
Pirlo, 35, has waffled over whether he'll be giving up international football. But, despite the midfielder often appearing more like a god than a mere mortal, it's still almost certain that we've seen him play his last World Cup - a realization made all the more sad not just with the way Italy exited the tournament, but with their play while in Brazil. Pirlo may not have been able to bail his side out this time around, but the midfield maestro will be forever remembered for his silky-sweet passes and dazzling free kicks. That, and his unerring sense of style.
Japan had the best fans
Any fans can get themselves on the cameras by displaying silly headgear or painting their bodies like a flag. Japan's fans, however, brought garbage bags to the stadiums so they could clean up after themselves. Even after watching their side bore everyone by failing to overcome ten-man Greece, the fans stuck around to tidy up the Estádio das Dunas. Plus they had at least a few fans dressed as Pikachu. It doesn't make up for us being sorely disappointed by Alberto Zaccheroni sucking all the fun from this side, but hey, it's something.
Ivory Coast maybe, just maybe, were cheated
A soft touch from Giovanni Sio on Georgios Samaras sent the attacker flying, setting up a last minute penalty for Greece. Samaras fired home, thus setting up the "Match With No End" between Costa Rica and Greece. While les elephants likely have a right to feel a bit indignant at the call, they also squandered opportunities to take the lead late in the second half, so it's hard to feel too sorry for them. It's rather sad, though, that a team with this much potential - Didier Drogba, Yaya Touré, Gervinho - has consistently underwhelmed in major tournaments.
Iran introduced Reza Ghoochannejhad
Iran managed just one goal in Brazil, and it was scored by the man with the amazing nickname. "Gucci", as he's called, simply tapped it past Asmir Begovic, so it wasn't as though he astonished the world with his maneuvers. He did, however, put on a great display against Argentina, linking up well with Askhan Dejagah and forcing Sergio Romero into a couple of fine saves. Newly introduced to this Iran side, the 25-year-old may well be the one leading them to their next World Cup.
Honduras united (almost) all in contempt
A major tournament often divides the football-loving population, forcing them to choose sides and exchange not-so-witty insults with those living outside their country's borders. But each time Honduras took the field, the entire world - save about eight million or so - was united as one. Those 270 minutes of unity were brought about by a near-universal loathing for the Honduras style. The players seemed to target the opposition's limbs rather than the ball, and in fact never seemed all that interested in trying to win a match. They finished with exactly one goal.
Ecuador expanded our knowledge of Valencias
Ecuador couldn't manage more than a point at the World Cup - although at least they earned that by shutting out France - but they did give Enner Valencia a bigger stage on which to shine. The 25-year-old actually began his career as a right-back before being moved up top, where he flourished last season, scoring 18 goals for Mexico side Pachuca. Indeed he scored each of Ecuador's three goals in the tournament, from a header to put Ecuador in front over Switzerland to a toe poke to equalize against Honduras to another header to give them the win. Now who's Antonio, again?
Ghana showed us how to regroup
There was plenty of behind-the-scenes drama happening in the Ghana camp. First, the players demanded payment of monies owed, threatening not to play their final group stage match against Portugal. Then came the sendings home of Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, amid accusations of training ground arguments and physical altercations. With just one point going into the final game, the Black Stars could probably be forgiven for just passing the ball around a bit, knowing they'd probably not manage to get to the next round. Instead they pressed forward, hoping to combine a U.S. loss with their own win, but never managed the equalizer, much less the winner.
Portugal introduced the concept of a loving head-nudge
Cristiano Ronaldo failed to do much of anything at this tournament, and as such, Portugal failed to do much of anything. But we'll always remember Pepe's gentle nuzzling of Thomas Müller. In the 37th minute of Portugal's opening match, with Germany already up 2-0, Pepe and Thomas Müller tussled for the ball. The frustrated defender flung an arm at Müller, who reacted rather theatrically, going to ground while clutching his face. Pepe raced over in a touching show of concern, leaned down, and lovingly nuzzled Müller's head. The ref, however, did not see the incident in such a forgiving light, and pulled out the red card.
South Korea became the (sort of) comeback kids
Picture it: it's the second match of the group stages. In the first, you only managed a draw, and that was really more down to goalkeeper error than anything else. Now, the whistle has gone for the second half and you're already down 3-0. The next game is against group leaders Belgium. In other words, why bother? But South Korea bothered. In the 50th minute, Son Heung Min put them back within two goals, and although Yacine Brahimi restored Algeria's advantage twelve minutes later, Koo Jacheol went ahead and put in another one for South Korea. Thanks for the thrills, boys.
Russia ... host the party next time
Go on, try to think of a positive for Russia. Yes, perhaps you laughed at Igor Akinfeev's huge howler against South Korea, but that doesn't really count as a positive for Russia. Fabio Capello gave us another glimpse of his dull, dreary ways, with his side scoring just two in three games. The good news is, they're the hosts next time around. That's got to mean they'll give us something special. Right? Right???
Chile allowed us to revel in beautiful chaos
Chile made it easy to delight in football again. Jorge Sampaolo brought back the teachings of revered coach Marcelo Bielsa, but took them even further, encouraging his Chile side to constantly press high up the pitch, to always be searching for a goal. Arturo Vidal was always ready to shield the admittedly shaky backline, but he could help build the attacks as well, giving the likes of Charles Aránguiz, Edu Vargas and Alexis Sánchez the freedom to constantly swarm the goal.
Uruguay made us sigh
It's next to impossible to come up with a positive moment to describe this Uruguay side. They were unable to do much of anything without Luis Suárez, and then managed to beat England with him in the side. He then destroyed everything with his bite on Giorgio Chielleni and so, against Colombia, they were unable to do much of anything once more. We can only hope that these performances prompt Uruguay to take a new direction, perhaps turning attention to younger talents available.
Mexico let Miguel Herrera be Miguel Herrera
The truth is Herrera's tactics doomed Mexico before Rafa Márquez fatefully clipped Arjen Robben's ankle, leading to a penalty and the Dutch going through to the semi-finals. Mexico had made it to the Round of 16 with just one goal conceded, and that was after they were up by three against Croatia. Aware of his side's defensive prowess - and Memo Ochoa's heroics between the sticks - the Mexico manager elected to not pursue a second goal. The strategy backfired. And while Herrera's choices at times left something to be considered, his touchline antics always provided comedy relief. Whether in the pouring rain or the blazing heat, there was Herrera, pogo-ing up and down and waving his arms like a madman - a madman clearly invested in the fate of his country.
Greece brought the funny
Greece isn't a side to provoke the warm fuzzies in neutrals. They are dogged defenders and, when forced to attack, lack the creativity necessary to really bring a spark to the game. But they do have one major redeeming feature: there's a lot of material out there for jokesters to work with. Whether it's making quips about Sokratis, Aristotle and Plato walking into a bar, or creating a new Homeric odyssey, or even questioning the Greeks' geometric prowess, we're all grateful for the bounty of material this civilization provides.
Nigeria showcased the crucial runs of Ahmed Musa
Now, Argentina haven't exactly looked frightening thus far - with the exception being, as always, that Messi guy - but it's still pretty astounding that this team of big names looked terrified by a 21-year-old who plies his trade in Russia. Yet every time Musa got the ball, Argentina just sort of stood floundered, looking unsure as to how to behave. This resulted in Musa grabbing the equalizer to answer each of Messi's go-ahead goals, forcing Argentina to rely on a winner from Marco Rojo.
Algeria demonstrated fearlessness, not recklessness
The Fennec Foxes were timid in their first match against Belgium, sure. But a near-result from that game prompted Vahid Halilhodžić to adopt a much more attacking approach, one which led to the 4-2 victory over South Korea, one of the most enjoyable games of the group stages. With Algeria set to face Germany in the Round of 16, some believed Vaha would change his tactics. Not so. Despite going up against one of the sides tipped to win the tournament, Algeria refused to sit back, instead pressuring Germany and making almost everyone adore them in the process. Fortunately, this Algeria squad is rather young, so we should be seeing much more of them in the future.
Switzerland highlighted Xherdan Shaqiri
In Switzerland's first match, against Ecuador, many wondered what all the fuss over Shaqiri was about. The Bayern Munich "winger" was rendered rather ineffectual out wide, but Omar Hitzfeld moved him to the center at the break. That's when we began to see glimpses of the 22-year-old's talent. Hitzfeld persisted in using him out wide again against France, but he shone centrally against Honduras, when he scored a hat-trick of impressive goals. He was also Switzerland's brightest player against Argentina, and they may have nicked the game had Josip Drmic not fluffed a divine pass from Shaqiri.
Plus, it's always fun to say his name. Shaacheeeriiiiii
United States' spirit is encapsulated in a broken nose
The U.S. made an impact right from the start, with Clint Dempsey scoring inside 30 seconds. But the attacker broke his nose in a collision with Ghana's John Boye, resulting in his playing the entire second half with a diminished capacity to, well, breathe. The U.S. went on to score a late winner, but it's Dempsey's nose that rather captures the spirit of this team. After Ghana's equalizer, after Germany's goal, even after Belgium's extra-time lead, in none of those situations did the USMNT look resigned to their fate. Instead they pushed aside any pain, both mental and physical, attempting to to get themselves back into the game.