Greatest World Cup moments
THE WORLD CUP went on to lose but will forever look back at what might have been.
Spain break their WC duck
It’s amazing to think that before 2010, Spain had never won a World Cup. The nation always had a reputation for producing some top-class talent but had always been the perennial underachievers at the international stage until 2008 when they won the European Championships.
Their rise to prominence in world football was well and truly complete when Andres Iniesta scored a goal in the 116th minute of the 2010 World Cup final, ensuring that Spain broke their World Cup duck. They were favourites to win the tournament so their victory didn’t come as a surprise but it didn’t take away from their achievement at all. Uruguay needed to win, Luis Suarez was expected to play a prominent role against Italy to spearhead his team’s advancement to the round of 16. He did play a leading role – only not in the way most had anticipated.
Toward the end of the match, Suarez inexplicably bit Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder following a tussle in the penalty area. The referee didn’t see the incident, which proved costly for the Azzurri because Uruguay soon scored the only goal of the match.
Suarez faced severe retrospective action. He was suspended from all football-related activity for four months, slapped with a ninematch international ban and given a big fine.
Suarez wasn’t new to biting. This was his third offence on the field following previous incidents for Ajax and Liverpool. Suarez’s bad habit didn’t put off Barcelona, who weeks later bought the striker from Liverpool.
The vertebra heard round the world
It is impossible to watch footage of Neymar sustaining his injury without wincing, and it has been ever since the nature of his injury was diagnosed. He broke his back.
Or rather, somebody else broke his back for him. People don’t break their backs/have their backs broken playing football. It’s not meant to happen.
At the time, though, it didn’t look like a back-breaking tackle. (What even would one of those look like? Well, we know now.) It was a clumsy challenge, yes, but then players go through one anothers’ backs all the time, and the referee, admittedly not having a great game, didn’t even whistle for a foul.
And Neymar looked hurt, yes, and that feeling grew as he was tipped into the stretcher and carried straight down the tunnel, of course, but still.
He was Neymar, and this was the World Cup in Brazil, and he was obviously going to be fine. He had to be. If he weren’t, well, it just wouldn’t be fair. He wasn’t. His back was broken, and so, it turned out, was Brazil’s.
Seven minutes from hell
When it comes to the World Cup, hosting is supposed to help – not this time. For seven first-half minutes, Germany conjured football of a savagery unwitnessed against significant opposition in the tournament’s history.
This was football as blood sport. Between the eighth second of the 23rd minute and the 49th second of the 29th minute Germany, one goal to the good already, scored four more, piercing Brazil’s defence with such frequency and brutality and engendering such horror among onlookers that footage really should be viewed through an opaque shower curtain. It was a nation’s dreams being sluiced down the plughole in a stream of saltwater.
Meanwhile, on Germany’s bench, coach Joachim Low had a question for his assistant, Hansi Flick. “Hansi, tell me,” he asked, “is this actually happening?” Low describes his feelings at this point as “a mix of absolute joy and disbelief. It was 5-0, in a semifinal against the hosts. It was unbelievable”.
It was Brazil’s first World Cup semi-final defeat for 76 years, and their first defeat at home in any competitive match for 39 years.
It was their most emphatic defeat of any kind for nearly a century, since Uruguay beat them 6-0 in 1920. In the history of the World Cup, the only other teams to have found themselves five goals down at halftime are Zaire (to Yugoslavia in 1974) and Haiti (to Poland in the same year); this is not the kind of company Brazil are used to keeping.