Great­est World Cup mo­ments

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SUNBIZ -

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.

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