I have heard and seen a lot talked and written about this being the best World Cup ever. I am not sure what basis this judgement is being made on but I would say in terms of quality this was nowhere near competitions from previous eras.
1966 and all that
The 1966 competition, won by England, of course, saw the introduction of the wingless wonders which you would have thought limited its appeal and excitement, especially compared to previous periods where attack-minded principles dominated more. But think of the players on view in that World Cup - Pele, Gerson, Garrincha, Jairzinho and Tostao for Brazil, Eusebio of Portugal, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks of England, Florian Albert and Ferenc Bene from Hungary.
As an England fan I might be biased but I didn't see many players of the calibre of these greats at this year's tournament.
Lionel Messi, pretty well the undisputed world's greatest player, won the Golden Ball here but few who saw his overall displays could credit the decision and the award seem based more on reputation than performance. He was outstanding in spurts but generally failed to shine especially in the knockout segment when the matches got serious - and opponents more difficult.
If they wanted to award the trophy to an attacking player - which is most fans' preference, I would think - surely James Rodriguez did more from a much lower reputation base.
Brazil go nuts
The Brazilian fans might mourn their teams' performance and demise in the semi-final but the undisguisable truth is that this was a poor Brazilian side that not even the presence of Neymar could elevate. Compare them to the side of 1970 which contained most of the stars who were virtually kicked out of the competition by fearsome Portuguese tackling in 1966.
Remember the Carlos Alberto goal in the final, the outrageous Pele dummy and the towering, arcing drive from inside his own half that both narrowly missed being goals to remember. Or Banks' incredible save from Pele's header. And then there were Franz Beckenbauer (playing with his arm in a sling in the 4-3 semi defeat by Italy) and the great Gerd Muller and Uwe Seeler for West Germany; Luigi Riva, Gianni Rivera and Alessandro Mazzola for the Italian runners-up.
This was real quality in a World Cup finals tournament.
The Dutch took over the mantle of 'total football' in the 70s even though they didn't win the trophy. The likes of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol, Rob Rensenbrink, Wim van Hanegem and most of the rest of the team to be honest, will stick in the mind long after we have forgotten most of this tournaments participants, even the more notable performers.
The Germans were deserved winners but, to be objective and realistic, they were a functional, well-drilled and efficient team rather than a great one or a delight to watch. Of course the 7-1 demolition of the hosts will stick in the memory but the contribution of some awful Brazilian defending and poor tactics and teamwork contributed considerably to that scoreline. Just look at the number of German goals that were sidefoot passes into the Brazilian goal.
The samba tournament
For me the greatest Brazilian - and therefore greatest team - ever was the 1982 team. They didn't win the competition; in fact they didn't even make the semi-final due to some poor defending.
But they were a real pleasure to watch. And the likes of Junior, Zico, Falcao and the late lamented Socrates will live in the annals of football. When they played it truly was a joyous samba that reverberated throughout the competition and set the standards for future generations of Brazil teams.
Unfortunately this year's crop failed miserably to live up to them.
A level playing field
I think what this competition was notable for was a general levelling off in the comparative positions and performances, especially among less fashionable countries without any great World Cup pedigree. Costa Rica, Colombia, USA, Chile, Belgium all emerged from the shadows of the more established nations to put in creditable performances. The USA v Belgium match was one of the most thrilling I have seen for years.
It was too much to expect any of these nations to win the trophy or even get to the final and, in the end, it was the old guard of Germany, Argentina, Brazil and Holland who made up the last four. But perhaps this was a turning point.
Before 1974 no-one would have called Holland a world power and both France and Spain were regular underachievers before their respective triumphs. With the right infrastructure, grass roots support and encouragement from the sporting authorities perhaps the USA or Belgium - or even Costa Rica - might be pushing for future glory.
I hope so because there was a good deal of defensive, tactical posturing from the major nations, particularly in the latter stages of the competition and the urge to avoid losing rather than trying to win was often evident.
I suspect we might see a different approach if Chile or USA or Colombia were to host a tournament in the future and had the chance to showcase their ability and potential in front of a home crowd.
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