Debate continues to rage over where the 2014 World Cup ranks in the competition’s 74-year history. But what is undeniable is that it provided more memorable moments than a World Cup has for some time. And that was arguably true of soccer in 2014 as a whole. There were historic Champions League winners, a thrilling title race in the Premier League and a Cinderella triumph in Spain. Here are the nine moments that captivated most over the past 12 months:
Surely the one moment above all else in 2014 during which everyone will remember where they were and the sense of disbelief that engulfed them. The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup, in 1950, they had been stunned in the final game by Uruguay in a match that went down as the Maracanazo, and forever remained a national disgrace. The Mineirazo, though, was humiliation on a whole different scale. Even many of those that accepted that this was far from a golden era in Brazil and that Germany had more ability in their squad, expected Brazil to at least keep their semifinal contest close due to the passion and togetherness previously so much in evidence. Instead, it was those heightened emotions that proved their undoing in a spectacular thrashing. Shorn of defensive leader Thiago Silva and talisman Neymar, Brazil conceded four goals in six first-half minutes and seven in total in one of the most memorable World Cup matches of all time.
Robin van Persie’s Flying Header
On its own merits, the goal warrants a high ranking among the best of 2014, but its significance exceeds the beauty of Van Persie’s majestically timed diving header. Coming on the second day of action in Brazil, it was the moment that suggested this World Cup could be something special. It also proved the start of the incredible downfall of the all-conquering defending champions. Spain led the Netherlands 1-0 and had missed a glorious chance to double their lead going into the half-time interval in Salvador. Instead, right before the interval, Van Persie struck to provide the spark for the Netherlands to emerge with a stunning 5-1 win and a few days later see Spain become the first team sent home.
Luis Suarez Does It Again
When Suarez and defender Giorgio Chiellini went down in the penalty area during the decisive group-stage clash between Uruguay and Italy, it initially appeared a regular coming together. Then, as Suarez emerged clutching his teeth and Chiellini desperately tried to show the gash on his shoulder, slowly the thought emerged that surely he couldn’t have done it again. It soon became clear that he could and he did. For the third time in his career, Suarez had bit an opponent. An act that because of its bizarreness more so than its actual barbarity led to much gnarling of teeth across the globe and soon an unprecedented four-match worldwide ban.
Götze Gives Germany Glory
Germany had won admiration the world over for the manner in which they had reinvented their stale national team since the turn of the century. But while earning plaudits, they had yet to do the one thing that for so long German teams did better than any other: win. Losing semifinalists at the last two World Cups and having fallen similarly short in the two most recent European Championships, there was clamor for the team to finally deliver. However, that quest was compromised before the tournament in Brazil even got underway thanks to a series of injuries and a vulnerable defense almost cost them in the Round of 16 by Algeria. But as the tournament reached its latter stages, Germany melded their new proactive flair with their traditional physicality to spectacular effect. And after sensationally ripping the hosts apart, a player who embodies the new generation, Mario Götze, came up with a brilliant volleyed extra-time winner against Argentina to put Germany back on top of the world.
Gareth Bale Goes Turbo
The first major title of the Spanish season was up to grabs, with the powerhouses of Real Madrid and Barcelona vying for the Copa del Rey and the chance to gain an advantage in their titanic rivalry. Tied 1-1 with just over five minutes remaining, extra time appeared on the cards. But Gareth Bale, still looking for a signature moment to quell the doubters about the merits of Madrid making him the most expensive player in history, produced a goal that had even Cristiano Ronaldo looking on in wowed disbelief. The speed he showed to outpace Marc Bartra, despite being shoved several yards off the pitch, was hard to comprehend.
Steven Gerrard Lets The Title Slip
When Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-2, the Merseysiders had a first league title in 24 years in their hands with four matches remaining. In the aftermath, captain Steven Gerrard, with his emotions heightened further on a day that marked the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster, issued a rallying cry to his teammates not to let it slip now. It was almost poetic cruelty then that two weeks later, it was the club’s long-serving talisman who literally slipped to allow Chelsea’s Demba Ba to score and inflict a devastating loss. Manchester City won the title and Liverpool and Gerrard have yet to recover.
Diego Godin Crowns Unlikely Champions
So long a club that became a running joke for their mishaps on and off the pitch, Atletico Madrid had already regained their dignity under their former inspirational midfielder, now inspirational coach, Diego Simeone. But even he had repeatedly insisted that there was no way Atleti could come out on top against the far greater resources of Real Madrid and Barcelona over the course of a 38-game season. After Atleti blew the chance to claim the Primera Division title with a game to spare, it appeared he may be right. His team traveled to the Camp Nou on the final day and soon trailed 1-0 -- a score that would give Barcelona the championship. But Atleti, once more refused to lie down. And early in the second half they came up with a goal that in its manner and in the identity of its scorer embodied Atletico’s incredible diehard spirit as Diego Godin bludgeoned a header into the net to give his team and manager one of the greatest achievements of soccer’s increasingly homogenized modern era.
Sergio Ramos Rescues Real Madrid Dream
Real Madrid had been chasing “La Decima,” an unprecedented 10th European Cup, for 12 frustrating years. Now, just as it seemed that the moment was theirs, in the former stomping ground of their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, it looked set to be snatched away by their poor relations from across the city. Atletico Madrid led 1-0 in the Champions League final heading toward the dying seconds of injury time and were set to pull off an improbable triumph. Then Luka Modric delivered a hastily taken corner, and, as he did so often in 2014, defender Ramos rose with authority in the center of the box to send a powerful header careering into the corner of the net. Atletico, shattered, could not recover, and the might of Real Madrid went onto claim a 4-1 win in extra time to secure history.
Bayern Put On A Tactical Masterclass
OK, so it was longer than a moment and it may not have delivered a trophy, but it’s hard to think of a better team performance in 2014 than Bayern’s systematic 7-1 dismantling of Roma in this season’s Champions League group stage. After being taken apart by Real Madrid in last season’s semifinals, many eager contrarians had enthusiastically written off the talents of Pep Guardiola. But this match showed why he continues to be the most inventive mind in the game and, regardless of how many more trophies he wins, will go down as one of soccer’s all-time great coaches. His tactics for a clash with Italy’s second-best team were impossible to pigeon hole by traditional methods. Rather than three at the back, four at the back, or four, five, or even six in midfield, this was simply about a brilliantly devised scheme to overload the opponents in their vulnerable areas of the pitch. If Bayern can maintain this level into the latter stages of the competition, they will be mighty hard to stop.