Cup reflections

What Germany did have beside efficiency and resilience was coherence. The bulk of the team had been together since winning in style — England were beaten 4-1 in the final — the European under-21 Cup. By Brian Glanville.

Now that the smoke has cleared and tumult died, what lessons have we learned from the World Cup? Have Brazil been toppled forever from their lofty perch in the international game after that 7-1 debacle and if so, why? Was Lionel Messi deservedly the winner of the ‘Golden Ball’, an honour, which in his deep disappointment he shrugged aside? He was dazzling before he became tired. Should the 22-year-old revelation of Colombia, James Rodriguez, have had it instead, as so many believed? And what of Neymar, so cruelly and viciously put out of the tournament by the brutal knee in the back by the Colombian, Juan Zuniga? Does he remain one of the best players in the game?

How good were Germany, deservedly the winner of the competition, yet what hard work they made of that final against an Argentina team which, Messi and perhaps Mascherano in the midfield apart, had reached the final almost by default?

What Germany did have beside efficiency and resilience was coherence. The bulk of the team had been together since winning in style – England were beaten 4-1 in the final – the European under-21 Cup. But it should be noted that the squad lacked an outstanding attacker in the injured left winger, Marco Reus.

Arguably, though Philipp Lahm was an impressive captain, as serviceable in right back, his original role, as in midfield, before Joachim Loew pulled him back there. Tactically, though highly effective, this wasn’t a tactically innovative team, such as the 1974 winning side, nor had it a dominant captain such as Franz Beckenbauer. But it had a manger in Loew, who dared to use for most of the games a 36-year-old centre forward in Miroslav Klose, the World Cup’s leading scorer, albeit thanks largely to a cornucopia of goals, which I remember seeing, in Tokyo in 2002 against a feeble Saudi Arabia.

Thomas Muller was outstanding for his versatility in attack, just as he had been in South Africa. Had he there not been suspended for the semifinal against Spain, Germany might well have won the title. Muller is a lethal goal scorer, but also a precocious strategist, a clear thinker about the game, Brazil could do nothing with him. But, while in some quarters Loew was praised for his late substitutions in the final, Andre Schurlle coming with Mario Gotze for that glorious winning goal, you wonder why neither started the game and Loew relied on a player in Kramer, who was yet to make a competitive appearance. In goal, Manuel Neur confirmed his hegemony, always eager to sweep as well as save, but perhaps he was a little lucky to escape so lightly after a heavy foul in the final.

Afflicted by the injury to their best known attacker, Radamel Falcao, Colombia had more than adequate compensation in the electric form of Rodriguez, surely the outstanding revelation of the tournament; a testimony to the virtues of not only supreme talent but sheer dedication in penurious circumstances. For his father, himself a professional player, walked out on the family when James was a child. But almost from infancy he was juggling with a ball while acting as “the father in his home.” A prodigy, he honed his skills at the Tolimense football school, was poached by Envigado club of Medellin, moved at 16 to Banfield of Buenos Aires, where he found life “hard”, then to Porto in Portugal. There he scored freely, moving countries yet again, three seasons later, when Monaco paid GBP40 million for him and he found himself playing side by side with the unlucky Falcao. He is the complete attacker, both maker and scorer of goals, half a dozen in the World Cup. Most memorable of all was that against Uruguay, when controlling the ball on his chest, he whirled around to whip home a ferocious volley.

Against Brazil, he was cynically rough-handled by a procession of opponents, Big Phil Scolari having warned there was going to be no more of this Mr. Nice Guy. Ineptly and permissibly refereed by the Spaniard Carballo, Rodriguez, like Neymar, though less dramatically, would be the victim of the thuggery. The ultimate irony being that when Carballo at last began to show yellow cards after an hour, Rodriguez should get one, leading to David Luiz scoring a spectacular free-kick goal.

Ah, Luiz! Whatever moved Scolari to deploy so reckless, irresponsible and self indulgent, if undeniably talented, a player at centre back? In the 7-1 annihilation by Germany he would be a disaster and even in the meaningless third-place match against Holland, lost 3-0, he would give away a goal with a wretchedly careless back header into his own penalty box. There is no doubt, both he and Brazil in the German debacle missed the sobering and effective presence of centre back Thiago Silva. All the reason why Big Phil should have deployed Luiz, if at all, in the midfield. But the bleak truth is that after Germany’s initial cascade of goals the Brazilians surrendered.

Less fashionable countries thrived, not least the gallant Costa Rican side, who’d had their moments in past tournaments. This time in their Group they had the inspired temerity to beat both Uruguay and Italy. Uruguay, it’s true, lacked Luis Suarez, whose bite would come later, but the achievement was still remarkable. Young Joel Campbell, on Arsenal’s books, though yet to play for them, was remarkable, equalising at 1-1, setting up Marco Urena for the third with a perfect through ball.

Italy, who had defeated an England team with Wayne Rooney exiled to the left and Andrea Pirlo once again their creative nemesis, went down to Costa Rica 1-0 in Recife, the goal being headed by a lively Bryan Ruiz, cast out by Fulham on loan just a few months earlier. A 5-4-1 formation paying dividends again. Next, Costa Rica, down to 10 men, still held Greece through extra-time and prevailed on penalties. Holland couldn’t beat them either, squeezing through on penalties in Salvador after manager Louis Van Gaal changed goalkeepers, Krul for Cillessen, for the shoot-out.

Holland, it was in their first Group game, in Salvador, who wrought revenge on a flagging Spain, their conquerors in the 2010 final. Spain actually went ahead with a penalty but then the floodgates opened. Ticky-tacky was arguably laid to rest. Spain could do nothing with an Arjen Robben, who so nearly scored twice in the last final. Cutting in from the right with his deadly left foot, running at amazing speed, Robben scored twice. No need, this time, to dive for penalties. Only a gallant save by Iker Casillas, who had blundered on an earlier goal, deprived Robben of his hat-trick.

Cristiano Ronaldo, another of the few acknowledged great players, foundered with Portugal, thrashed 4-0 by Germany in their opening game after Pepe, the centre back, had been expelled for butting Muller. An easy anticlimax of a winning goal against Ghana brought a futile 2-1 win but Portugal were out. He was clearly not fully fit, and unable to save a Portuguese side full of veteran players.