The 2014 World Cup is now officially over, with Germany having secured the Jules Rimet trophy with 1-0 over Argentina at the Maracana. Here are five things we learned from the tournament.
1. Football still has the potential to unite and excite
The Brazilian World Cup was arguably one of the most exciting of all-time, with close games and upsets left, right and centre. The support in the stadia was phenomenal - particularly for the South American sides - and shows, despite the protests, quite how much football is still capable of uniting a nation in joy and disappointment.
Aside from the Argentina v Netherlands semi-final, each and every game was either very close or filled with goals and very exciting, as teams shook off defensive restraints to go forward and attack; trying to beat opponents as opposed to not being beaten.
2. Imbalance between defence and attack
As such, this was perhaps the World Cup that had the most uneven battle between defence and attack, with some wonderful creative play mixed with some truly shocking defending. The standard of defending has been in decline for a number of years, with only the imposing figures of Thiago Silva and Mats Hummels looking comfortable at the back.
The Brazil v Germany game epitomised the shift towards attacking football and away from defensive-minded play, but there were a number of similar examples throughout the World Cup. It is partly a tactical shift, as teams push on their full-backs to become wing-backs, leaving their centre-backs increasingly exposed, but it also partly a manifestation of the decline in top quality defending and anticipation that pundits have been commenting on for years.
3. Tiki-taka is dead
Belgium and Spain both tried it, and both ultimately came up short. Spain have dominated in recent years through their own brand of possession football, but whether other teams have worked them out or they have simply become jaded through a lack of freshness in their approach, this style certainly no longer works at international level.
Warnings were given by Barcelona - who play the same style and provide the majority of the Spanish team - failing to dominate in domestic or European competition last season, but the final death knell came as Spain were soundly and deservedly beaten by the Netherlands and Chile in the group stage.
The way forward now appears to be the style adopted by the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool last season, with hugely powerful counter-attacking potential and fast, skilful players who do not worry about seeing less of the ball than their opponents as long as they get the chance to score when they do have it.
4. There are new kids on the block
Chile, Belgium and Colombia, along with eventual winners Germany, all looked like they have the capacity to make an impact on the world stage for years to come. Belgium and Colombia in particular look like they could be stars of the future.
Belgium have a plethora of young stars including Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Divock Origi, along with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois all yet to reach their full potential but already looking like accomplished players at international level.
Colombia, meanwhile, had the tournament’s highest scorer in James Rodriguez, despite lacking Radamel Falcao, supposedly their star man. Watch out for them in years to come, they will certainly be there or thereabouts.
5. Germans are here to stay
And finally, we must talk about Germany. They fully deserved their World Cup triumph, having dominated throughout the tournament and never really, other than a slight slip up against Ghana, looked like losing a game.
There is also no reason to suspect that the Germans won’t be just as strong next time around. They had an average age of 26 in the final and with players like Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer, along with those missing through injury such as Iker Gundogan and Marco Reus and up and coming players like new Liverpool signing Emre Can forming the spine of their side for perhaps the next six to eight years, the German team should be able to continue their form into the Euros and the next World Cup and perhaps even beyond that.
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