F365's Top Ten World Cup Highlights

After a brilliant World Cup, Matthew Stanger picks the things we enjoyed most about the tournament. There was plenty we simply couldn't squeeze into a list of ten...

Last Updated: 15/07/14 at 10:15 Post Comment

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10. Algeria's Knock-Out Tie Against Germany
A perfect example of a team being greater than the sum of its parts. Despite losing to Belgium in the opening game, Algeria impressed in the group stage with a rampant 4-2 thrashing of South Korea and then a hard-earned draw against Russia to reach the next round. But it was against Germany that they really caught our imagination. The eventual champions may have breezed past Brazil in the semi-final, but Algeria posed their toughest test at the tournament and were unfortunate not to take advantage of several thrilling counter-attacks in an open game. Germany's quality and experience paid off in the end, thanks to goals from Andre Schurrle and Mesut Ozil, but they were made to sweat by the underdogs.


9. Greece Being Greece
Most supporters usually have sympathy with the underdog story, but since Greece's Euro 2004 success they have been the team everyone loves to hate at international tournaments. A defensive style and intention to disrupt their opponent's flow usually leads to dull, attritional encounters, but that shouldn't disguise the nation's achievements in reaching the knock-out stages in Brazil and Euro 2012. Ivory Coast were the latest victims of Greece playing the percentages as Fernando Santos' side progressed from the group stage with a 2-1 victory in the final game, but the Greek dream was ended on penalties by Costa Rica. It was 'fun' while it lasted.


8. Rihanna Punditry
Those fearing the banal offerings of Match of the Day regulars during the World Cup were treated to a rare source of respite from the minds of Alan Shearer and Mark Lawrenson as Rihanna shared her World Cup insight on Twitter. 'Thank you Ronaldo for that sweet setup!!! And thank YOU Valera for your timely execution!!' was the music star's reaction to Portugal's last-gasp equaliser against USA, but it was Germany, and Miroslav Klose - 'Da German bae' - who really stole her heart. After Joachim Low's team beat Argentina in the final, Rihanna partied with the players - including King Klose - and was rewarded for her excellent punditry by getting to celebrate with the trophy. Not a bad start to replacing Alan Hansen.


7. Hodgson Reaction
Although England offered promise in their narrow defeat to Italy in Manaus, it was ultimately a tournament of great frustration for Roy Hodgson and his players, summed up perfectly by this clip of the manager watching a spurned chance against Uruguay. While England failed to impress, the same cannot be said for Costa Rica, the team ranked 28th in the world who shocked everyone by finishing first in Group D. As captain Bryan Ruiz said: "We were in the 'Group of Death,' and now it's others who are dead."


6. Miguel Herrera
The World Cup was full of charismatic characters who provided non-stop entertainment over the last month, and none more so than Mexico coach Miguel Herrera. The 46-year-old was a barrel of emotion on the touchline, kicking every ball with his team, celebrating every joy and despairing at every sorrow, epitomised by his antics during Mexico's crucial win against Croatia. The good news is that he'll be back in four years' time, having signed a new contract after guiding Mexico to the last 16.


5. USA v Belgium, Extra Time
After the group stage goal glut, the round of 16 brought us back down to earth with an average strike rate of just 1.4 inside 90 minutes. Extra time was a different matter, however, and following Germany's thrilling victory over Algeria, Argentina's late win against Switzerland and the dramatic scenes between Costa Rica and Greece came USA's clash with Belgium. Tim Howard's heroics held the Belgians at bay in regular time, but goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku seemingly secured their progress before substitute Julian Green scored with his first touch in competitive international football to set up a tense finale. It typified the fighting spirit of Jurgen Klinsmann's side but, despite an ingenious free-kick routine leading to a smothered chance for Clint Dempsey, they crashed out in glorious failure.


4. Netherlands 5 Spain 1
An era-ending result that lit the touchpaper for the tournament. It's strange to think that it was only 1-1 at half-time after Robin van Persie's superb diving header cancelled out Xabi Alonso's penalty. That was the Real Madrid man's only telling contribution in Brazil as he and Spain crumbled in a difficult group, while the Netherlands surprised fans with a series of exciting displays. Nothing quite lived up to that second half against the Spanish, however, when Daley Blind's raking long balls found the runs of Arjen Robben to tear the world champions to pieces. It was brutal brilliance that left Spain and the rest of the world in shock.


3. Suarez Bite
While we also enjoyed Pepe's meltdown against Germany, nobody does it quite like Luis. Sitting through England's tedious 0-0 draw with Costa Rica, the atmosphere in Belo Horizonte was one of resignation, the fate of Roy Hodgson's team already decided. But suddenly the press seats were abuzz with a prick of excitement, journalists glued to the mini monitors on each desk broadcasting the action from Italy v Uruguay. On first viewing it was inconclusive - surely he hadn't? Not again? But he had. Another vicious bite into Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder followed by the striker's unashamed theatrics suggesting the Italian was somehow the guilty party. "I lost my balance, making my body unstable and falling on top of my opponent," said Suarez. "At that moment I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth." FIFA didn't buy his excuse and Suarez was forced to offer a mealy-mouthed apology. Still, at least his four-month ban from football didn't preclude a £75m transfer to Barcelona.


2. Germany 7 Brazil 1
An earth-shattering defeat for the hosts that compounded their misery after all the tears over Neymar's back injury. Brazil were always expected to struggle without their star man, but no-one envisaged such a brutal defeat to the eventual winners. "It won't be a tough job at all," said David Luiz after he was handed the captaincy in Thiago Silva's absence. He couldn't have been more wrong. PSG's new £50m signing bounded around the pitch like a lost puppy as Brazil fell apart and the Germans ran riot. Four goals in six first-half minutes brought a 5-0 scoreline by the break and by the time Oscar scored the most pointless consolation strike in history, Andre Schurrle had added two more. It was car-crash football and history in the making.


1. Louis van Gaal
A box-office manager who proved his reputation for making bold decisions under pressure. While Van Gaal's arrogance may grate with some, it made for an entertaining subplot at the World Cup, and he was right to claim credit for a number of tactical masterstrokes. The 5-1 win over Spain was a highlight, while the manager's changes against Chile and Mexico helped Holland top the group and then reach the quarter-finals. Against Costa Rica, Van Gaal's move to replace Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul for the shoot-out was the main talking point, but even in defeat to Argentina he still apportioned himself a share of the praise. "I taught Romero how to stop penalties (at AZ Alkmaar), so that hurts," said Van Gaal after the Dutch crashed out. We cannot wait to see him in the Premier League.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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