By Paul Kennedy
Brazil 2014 has been the best World Cup of our lifetime. Beginning with the first three days that produced four comeback wins, the World Cup was, to borrow a line from ESPN's Jon Champion, the gift that kept on giving. From the dramatic -- half the knockout games weren't decided until stoppage time or overtime -- to the outrageous -- Luis Suarez bites again -- and the unfathomable -- Brazil loses 7-1 (or Spain loses 5-1) -- we'll be talking about the 2014 World Cup for years to come. Here are 10 best things about the 2014 World Cup.
1. James Rodriguez.If ever there was a player who wore his heart on his sleeve, it was James Rodriguez, who leads the race for the Golden Boot. A star was born before our eyes, and his joy was evident with each of his six goals, several of which could be the goal of the tournament. When the Cafeteros went out in brutal fashion to Brazil, James was also unafraid to show his disappointment, crying uncontrollably.
2. Last Call.Everyone should raise their glass to the folks at ESPN, whose World Cup run ends on Sunday. No organization has done more to make soccer important in the United States than ESPN, which first broadcast the World Cup in 1982, and it's been rewarded with record ratings. But ESPN's coverage has been more than just the game broadcasts. With its pre-game and post-game segments and evening shows, ESPN's World Cup coverage has matched anything we've ever seen abroad. It's been all tied together by the "Last Call" segment during which Bob Ley -- a veteran of the 1982 broadcast -- and his co-hosts have led the ESPN crew in a short soccer chat about the day's events -- as good a wrapup segment as ESPN has ever produced for any sporting event.
3. New York Times.In this day and age of media cutbacks, the New York Times stood out in pulling out all the stops with its coverage of the World Cup, reporting from across Brazil's 12 venues, and deep into the Amazon, where Jere Longman traveled to tell the story of how villagers took in Brazil-Mexico. (“The TV is angry with Brazil," a villager laughed when the TV went out at the end of the 0-0 game.) Sam Borden, whose magazine profile ofJurgen Klinsmann dominated the discussion of the U.S. national team even after its arrival in Brazil, was a must-read source of analysis of what went wrong with Brazil, laying out its culpability in the "environment of lawlessness" that led to Neymar’s injury and dissecting its 7-1 loss to Germany (complete with graphics). Like ESPN on the TV side, the Times could match up with any international media outlet in terms of its print and digital coverage. For that, American soccer should feel very proud.
4. Brazilian Mascots.American sports with their pre-game shows look silly in contrast to the solemnity of the pre-game routines at the World Cup, beginning with the assembling of the starters and walking on to the field with their young mascots. All you needed to do was watch the animation with which the young mascots sang the national anthem before Brazil games to see the pride Brazilians have in their country and how much it meant for them to try to win the World Cup.
5. Concacaf Keepers.At the end of the day, Germany's Manuel Neuer may be impervious, in a class by himself among World Cup goalkeepers, but Concacaf teams could play in the World Cup another 100 years and never get the goalkeeping that they got from Tim Howard, Guillermo Ochoa and Keylor Navas in Brazil. With his 16 saves against Belgium, Howard accomplished what he could not do in his previous 103 games for the USA and became a national celebrity, and he might rank third of the three Concacaf keepers in Brazil. Ochoa's flying stop to swat Neymar's header off the line was the save of the tournament. All Navas did in leading Costa Rica to the quarterfinals is get the first division stadium in his hometown of Perez Zeledon named after him.
6. Digital Media.Thanks to hidden cameras, smartphones and tablets, nothing happened at the World Cup that escaped inquiring eyes, from Neymar being wheeled into the Fortaleza hospital with a fractured vertebra -- the nurse who took the video was fired after shooting a selfie at the end of the video -- to Arjen Robbenconsoling his son after the shootout loss to Argentina. Who'll ever forget the image of Ghanaian defender John Boye leaving Room 301 at the Palace Brasilia Hotel, kissing his bundle of $100,000 in cash he'd just received? All captured by a camera TV Globo had placed in the walls of the hotel to catch the Black Stars collecting their elusive bonus money. (The next day, Boye scored an own goal and Ghana went out with a 2-1 loss to Portugal.)
7. Best Games.The problem with most World Cups is that they are front-loaded with snoozers -- during the group stage when most games are played: 48 of 64. That was not the case at the 2014 World Cup, where the tone for the tournament was set with a string of thrilling first-round matches. All of these games should be archived for future viewing:
Costa Rica-Uruguay (3-1)
Algeria-South Korea (4-2)
8. The Bugs.Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 are going to be downright boring in comparison to the sights of Brazil 2014. A trip to Manaus meant stories about the river dolphins, electric eels, caimans and piranhas. One of the images of the World Cup turned out to be too good to be true. As ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap delivered a pre-game report on USA-Portugal from the Arena Amazonia in Manaus, a pair of giant cicadas appeared on his shoulder and microphone. He later explained the cool with which he did his report was because they had been placed there. "If they'd just flown onto me," he tweeted, "I would have shrieked."
9. Six Golazos.The World Cup produced its share of golazos. Here are a half dozen favorites:
Robin van Persie, Netherlands (vs. Spain)
Tim Cahill, Australia (vs. Netherlands)
Lionel Messi, Argentina (vs. Iran)
Jermaine Jones, USA (vs. Portugal)
Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland (vs. Honduras)
James Rodriguez, Colombia (vs. Uruguay)
10. John Brooks' Celebration.If one image will last from the 2014 World Cup, it will be the look of shear astonishment on the face of young John Brooks after he scored the winning goal for the USA against Ghana -- earning him (and his Wikipedia page) instant national fame and setting offwild celebrations across the country. He was so overcome by the emotion of the moment that he collapsed to the ground, burying his face in the grass.