This World Cup's got bite!

This World Cup's got bite!
Spain's midfielder David Silva (R) dribbles the ball during a Group B football match between Spain and Chile in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 18, 2014.

SPAIN'S 5-1 DEFEAT BY HOLLAND, CULMINATING IN THEIR EXIT

David Silva wheeled around, his head thrown back in frustration. A golden chance to put Spain 2-0 ahead squandered. How costly would that prove? Extremely costly, it would transpire.

Within a minute of Silva's miss, Robin van Persie (right) equalised for Holland with a full-length flying header from the edge of the box. And that was only the start.

In the second half, Louis van Gaal's team took over, ripping strips off the Spanish, pounding home another four goals to complete what we thought would be the most stunning result of the tournament.

We were wrong. Something even bigger was in the pipeline.

THE DEMISE OF ENGLAND AND ITALY

With Uruguay in clear decline, England (right) and Italy were the favourites to progress from Group D.

But we were proven wrong. Italy at least managed to win a game and thus sustained themselves to the end of the group stages. England were a fleeting irrelevance, like a wasp at a picnic, dispatched with the second swipe of a newspaper.

Two of the old houses of European football fell at the first hurdle. Italy, through a lack of character. England, through a lack of a functioning defence. Cesare Prandelli resigned. Roy Hodgson clings on.

LUIS SUAREZ'S BITE

In every World Cup, there is a superstar who shames himself.

In 1994, it was Diego Maradona. In 1998, it was David Beckham. In 2002, it was Rivaldo. In 2006, it was Zinedine Zidane.

Only Luis Suarez (left) could shame himself in two consecutive World Cups. In 2010, it was a handball. In 2014, it was far worse.

To bite Giorgio Chiellini (right) was one thing. To lie about it afterwards was another. To issue a meaningless non-apology in an effort to force a lucrative move to a new club was, well, by that point, it was entirely expected. The World Cup was better off without him.

VAN GAAL'S SUBSTITUTION OF JASPER CILLESSEN FOR TIM KRUL

The big men make the big calls.

Louis van Gaal's decision to remove his first-choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for Tim Krul purely for a penalty shoot-out was entirely without precedent at this level of football.

It was the gamble to end all gambles. Had it failed, the Dutch coach would have been ridiculed, castigated for not using a valuable substitution earlier.

But it didn't fail. Costa Rica were spooked, Krul saved two penalties and the Dutch progressed to the semi-finals. Manchester United supporters looked on approvingly. David Moyes would never have tried something like that.

GOALLINE TECHNOLOGY USED FOR THE FIRST TIME AT A WORLD CUP IN FRANCE GAME

Four years after Frank Lampard's very-obviously-legitimate goal against Germany was ruled out because the officials didn't realise that the ball had crossed the line, progress was made and France were the first beneficiaries.

Karim Benzema's (right) side-footed effort against Honduras hit the post, bounced back along the line, hit Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares and sneaked over the line before he could snatch it back.

In years gone by, it might not have counted. The view of the officials was blocked. Now, thanks to Lampard's Bane, we have the technology.

NOW YOU KNOW JAMES RODRIGUEZ

Transferred to Monaco last summer for an eye-watering fee of £40 million ($85m), it's a little hard to suggest that Colombia's James Rodriguez (right) was an unknown quantity at this World Cup, and yet he still transformed his reputation.

Brilliant in his first game against Greece and progressively better all the way to his brutal neutralisation against Brazil, he could easily have doubled his transfer value.

There is something of Paul Scholes about Rodriguez in the way that he plays the game at his own pace, working to an internal GPS map of the pitch.

He is a special player. Now he needs a special club.

THE RISE OF THE UNDERDIGS COSTA RICA

So much for logic and so much for the bookmakers. So much for star players and star managers.

While England flail around looking for excuses, Costa Rica (above) turned up at the World Cup, showed no fear and scampered all the way to the quarter-finals.

Their back three conceded only two goals in five games, their forwards created enough problems to unsettle a string of superior opponents. They fought for every ball and for every metre and they returned home, technically at least, unbeaten.

England should look and learn.

NEYMAR'S INJURY AND THE SUBSEQUENT 7-1 THRASHING BY GERMANY

We knew that Neymar (below) would have a significant role to play in this World Cup. We thought that he would be the golden boy, leading his nation to victory.

Instead, he was cast as the tragic hero, vanquished too early, leaving behind an ordinary team who were slaughtered by Germany in the semi-finals in his absence.

No World Cup has seen a shock like this. The hosts, the favourites, the most iconic team in world football, obliterated in their own land.

In truth, Neymar could have done nothing about it. This was a total collapse, from the top to the bottom. Perhaps he was better off out of it.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 14, 2014.
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