By Rob Woollard ,AFP
RIO DE JANEIRO — Wonderful goals, gripping drama, shock results, new heroes, old villains: the World Cup played out like the gripping blockbuster tournament its organizers always dreamed it would be. Long before the curtain came down on the month-long soccer carnival with Germany’s victory on Sunday, many had already decided it deserved to be remembered as the greatest in the event’s 84-year history. Others argued that the absence of truly memorable matches in the knockout rounds — Germany’s astonishing 7-1 semifinal walloping of Brazil the obvious exception — should preclude 2014 from ‘greatest ever’ status. But whether the best, or merely one of the best, what is undeniable is that the 2014 World Cup saw a dramatic spike in entertainment, ending a run of four consecutive tournaments where the goals-per-game average had shrunk. Mario Goetze’s extra-time winner to sink Argentina in the Maracana on Sunday provided a glorious, emphatic full-stop to a tournament punctuated by riveting entertainment — and goals. Goetze’s strike was the 171st of the finals, equaling the record tally achieved in a 32-team World Cup at the 1998 finals in France. The tone was set early in the tournament, with the Netherlands’ stunning 5-1 thrashing of defending champions Spain in Salvador notable for both the quantity and quality of goals scored.
Adventure Embraced Dutch striker Robin van Persie’s lobbed header was the first of several wonder-goals that lit up the tournament as teams discarded conservatism and embraced adventure. Australia’s Tim Cahill, Colombia’s James Rodriguez and Argentina’s Lionel Messi also chipped in with memorable attacking cameos as caution was thrown to the wind. “It looks like teams are here to score goals,” observed former France and Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier midway through the tournament. “Some of the games that we have seen are more like basketball games, just going from one goal to the other.” Houllier was among many who wondered whether the exotic backdrop of the World Cup, in the spiritual home of the fabled “jogo bonito” served to inspire the 32 participating teams. “I ask myself is there this vibrancy because the World Cup is in Brazil?” said the Frenchman, part of FIFA’ technical study group. But it wasn’t just goalscorers who hogged the limelight. It was also a vintage tournament for the brotherhood of goalkeepers.