World Cup 2014 highlights

As we prepare for the final weekend of the World Cup with a consolation final Saturday (semifinal losers Brazil and the Netherlands) and the main event between Germany and Argentina on Sunday, let’s recap with a few of the highlights of this tournament.

Germany’s complete rout of Brazil

The most one-sided affair in a World Cup semifinal, and one of the most impressive routs in World Cup history, headlines this Cup so far. The Internet went crazy to the tune of 35.6 million tweets, and rightly so, as Germany sealed the match early with four goals in six minutes (part of five goals in the first 29 minutes). Miroslav Klose scored his record-breaking 16th World Cup goal. A late Brazil goal on a counter after Germany almost scored its eighth goal prevented the host country from the additional humiliation of a shutout.

Neymar’s injury may have factored into this match, but I can’t see how it would have substantially changed the result. The Brazilian defense unhinged as Germany played exceptionally well, picking their spots and hitting them time after time. They created space and used it, and the scoreline, 7-1, was a completely accurate picture of the match. The absence of Thiago Silva likely had more to do with the extreme number of goals, but one player, even one who seems to break up passes as a matter of course, can rarely change the atmosphere that substantially. (Unless his name is Tim Howard. But I’ll get to that later.)

Though the score was incredibly lopsided, let’s remember that Chile almost beat Brazil two rounds ago. This appeared on USA Today Sports right after Brazil-Chile: “To continue to advance in this World Cup, Brazil needs to clean up its defense, and finish its chances.” It didn’t happen, and a German squad that played almost flawless football finished the task.

Netherlands and PKs

The move Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal made in the quarterfinals was unprecedented. No one has removed the goalie who played almost all 120+ minutes in the World Cup to send in a goalkeeper just for penalties. What’s more, Krul hadn’t played in a match in nearly two months.

Apparently, it was part of the plan all along. Krul knew he would be sent in just before a penalty shootout so he could be prepared for the possibility. Jasper Cillessen, who was in goal through regulation and extra time, knew nothing of the plan. Van Gaal said:

We thought it through. Every player has certain skills and qualities and they don’t always coincide. We felt Tim would be the most appropriate keeper to save penalties. You would have seen that Tim dived to the right corner twice. We’re a tiny bit proud this trick has helped us through.

It was a ballsy call, and it paid off. Tim Krul not only played the psychological game to his advantage, he also guessed right every time:

On all five occasions Krul moved in the correct direction before the ball was struck, and whether that was down to guesswork, brilliant preparation or old fashioned mind-games is quite possibly moot, but it is highly unlikely that his actions did not at least have an effect.

Krul’s antics were questioned in the aftermath. He approached each penalty taker and told them he knew where the kick was going. He may have toed the line, but it was an impressive showing in penalties that kept hope alive for the Oranje.

What’s more, the question will haunt Dutch fans — was it the right move to leave Jasper Cillessen in for PKs in the semifinal against Argentina? We’ll never know. Perhaps Argentina prepared for Krul. Regardless, the initial move was instantly memorable.

Howard’s brilliance in U.S. loss

Everton goalie Tim Howard — no, make that American goalkeeper Tim Howard — put on a performance for the ages in the U.S. loss to Belgium.

His 16 saves were the most in any World Cup game since the stat was first recorded. Yahoo! Sports put together a GIF with all 16 saves displayed at once

The range alone is reason for awe at the performance.

Belgium took an insane 38 total shots in the match — well over twice the number of U.S. shots — with 26 shots on goal and 19 corners. That’s a lot for any goal to handle on a normal day, but it was far from a normal day for Howard. And though the U.S. lost and failed to advance to the quarterfinals, it was truly one of the great performances in U.S. Soccer history on the international stage.

As hard as it will be to pry him off the team, the likeliest scenario sees a younger goalie man the net in the next World Cup. It may be best that way, as Howard put on a show that will be almost impossible for him to replicate.

The number of goals in the tournament

There have been 167 goals so far in the tournament, at a rate of 2.7 goals per game. 1998 produced 171 goals. With the final and consolation final remaining, it would take incredible defensive efforts to not reach that total.

The aforementioned German rout of Brazil factor helped the total substantially with the combined eight goals. The group stage games played the largest part, though, as sixteen matches ended with a total of at least four goals (the most being seven in a 5-2 France victory over Switzerland).

After group games, the pace of goal-scoring slowed, as Tuesday’s Germany-Brazil matchup is the only knockout round match with as many as four goals. 12 matches produced 23 goals in the first two knockout rounds, at a below-tournament average 1.92 goals per game.

Those who dislike soccer due to a lack of offense have had little to complain about during this World Cup. There’s been plenty of it.

Suarez biting incident

I’ve saved the strangest for last. This incident, unfortunately, wasn’t unprecedented. It had happened twice before, which is why it’s so crazy not only that FIFA didn’t do as much as it could about the incident, but that Suarez did it at all.

He has since apologized for his actions (certainly an apology for actions on the pitch is better late than never). Chiellini gave a classy response:

The fact remains that he should have known better than to attempt the stunt in the first place. In this day and age, everything on the pitch is recorded by tons of cameras. Several cameras are trained on the penalty box, especially when a ball might be played into the middle.

Suarez’ intentions in biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini are even less clear, though, considering there was virtually nothing to be gained from it. If the point was to draw a penalty kick, the ref who sees a reaction probably saw that there was instigation. Or maybe when sorting out the issue, he’ll see the bite marks you so conveniently left as evidence. Even if you do somehow get the penalty kick and win the game (which Uruguay did without needing the whole affair), you won’t be moving on with the team. As a star player, that’s just a bad move all around.

Hopefully Suarez has indeed learned from the incident. And hopefully it shines a revealing light on the sort of gamesmanship the sport can do without.

Dan Johnson is editor-in-chief of Three for Ten Sports and former managing editor of The Collegian at Grove City College.

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