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.)

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Hope for future despite U.S. exit

I wasn’t initially going to write about today’s U.S.-Belgium match. But the thoughts came anyway.

Sometimes soccer is a cruel sport. But in this match, it could have been far more cruel. The U.S. created some chances, but Belgium had far more. The team that ends with 38 shots ordinarily comes out on top. At the same time, the Americans don’t have to hang their heads about taking Belgium into extra time.

A number of players stepped up in this round, not all of them the usual suspects. In fact, only one of the truly shining spots today has been a force for the U.S. in years past.

Really, what a performance from Tim Howard. It’s hard to overstate his importance to the success of the U.S. in this tournament, and especially this knockout round game. The Everton goalie only missed blocking two shots all day; neither was his fault. He did his job and then some, stopping an incredible 16 shots. It’s a World Cup record, at least as long as the stat has been recorded. As well as Howard played in goal, though, the final outcome went the right way. It’s hard to get a loss on such a stellar performance from the keeper, but the opponent was the better side.

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The Return of Altidore

U.S. Soccer announced earlier today that Jozy Altidore will be available to play tomorrow against Belgium:

That’s certainly good news for the U.S. Though only 14 men can be used in a game, including substitutes, losing one of 23 to injury severely limits tactical possibilities. That’s especially the case when he’s your starting forward.

One major question, though, is how much and at what level Altidore will be able to play. The fact that coach Jürgen Klinsmann avoided answering the question when SI’s Grant Wahl inquired how much Altidore trained at full speed this week isn’t encouraging in that regard.

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