Rewind, replay, remember

Another World Cup is now in the history books. World order and sleep patterns can all return to normal now - well at least for another four years.

Fans from all over the world are slowly and reluctantly making their way back home to reality after a month-long party. By plane, car, bus, they are all bringing back a lifetime of memories, some with heavier hearts than others, but still moments to savour.

The organisers have that small task of totalling up the balance sheets. Football's world governing body Fifa will, depending on whose estimates you believe, make between US$2.6 billion (S$3.2 billion) and US$4 billion as a result of Brazil 2014.

The host, however, has been saddled with a record US$11 billion World Cup bill, with a sizeable portion used to build stadiums which may soon become white elephants. But a good percentage has also gone to building highways and expanding airports, tangible benefits to Brazil long after the World Cup.

Yet while organisational issues (unfinished stadiums and the event's high price tag) and unhappy Brazilians (protests and strikes) had dominated the headlines before the World Cup, it was good to see sport making both the front and back pages of newspapers again.

Brazil 2014 left us with some truly great football memories and unearthed some precious footballing gems. Here, we look at the moments that defined the Brazil World Cup.

New magic number is 22

Even as we saw the embarrassing collapse of fallen champions Spain, and greats like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi bow out of the tournament without being at their best, this World Cup was where a handful of 22-year-olds announced their arrival on the world's biggest stage.

Colombia's James Rodriguez, Germany's Mario Goetze, Brazil's Neymar and Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri all set the tournament alight with their wonderful skill and youthful exuberance.

Rodriguez finished as its top scorer and arguably best player, Goetze got the goal that won the World Cup and Neymar's standing was enhanced in a country already full of footballing gods.

Shaqiri did not quite achieve the same level of prominence as the other three but his three goals in four matches hint that there is more to come from a man dubbed the Alpine Messi.

Together with France's Paul Pogba (21), the tournament's best young player, England's Raheem Sterling (19) and Germany Andre Schuerrle (23), they form a youthful base for at least two World Cups to build on.

Year of the underdogs

No one gave Costa Rica and Algeria a chance of making the second round. Even Chile, grouped with the Netherlands and defending champions Spain, were not favoured to go through.

But the trio, along with Colombia, emphasised the point that many coaches made in Brazil: the gap in world football is fast narrowing. Even teams like Iran and Australia, who despite being eliminated still gave the Dutch a big scare in a 2-3 loss that could have gone either way, were never really outclassed.

Smaller teams did not lose by big margins like they used to against the powerhouses.

Instead, it was the big boys who got thrashed, Brazil (7-1 by Germany) and Spain (5-1 by the Dutch).

Drama, controversy

This will be a tournament players and teams bit off more than they could chew.

Luis Suarez was poised to be one of the stars. He was well on his way with a fantastic brace against England. Then, he bit Italy's Giorgio Chiellini and was slapped with a record sanction.

At 27, it may have been the last time he would be gracing the World Cup. We may just have seen the last of a truly gifted but emotionally flawed player on football's biggest stage.

Similarly, Brazil's humiliation by Germany in the semi-finals and 0-3 collapse to the Netherlands in the third-place play-off spelt the end of Luiz Felipe Scolari's coaching career, at least with the Selecao.

The coach who delivered Brazil the 2002 title in South Korea and Japan must shoulder much of the blame for the side's disastrous collapse in their final two matches. Neymar's injury was a blow but he failed to inspire a team of young players when he needed to.

Equally disappointing was Lionel Messi. He single-handedly carried Argentina in the group stages, but as La Albiceleste made it all the way to the final, he disappeared. His second-half performance in the final was one of the most subdued games he has ever played.

Perhaps it was fatigue and pressure.

But even if he was a marked man, he could have inspired those around him but he hung his head low.

Winning the World Cup is ultimately a team effort and beyond even a super player like Messi.

As for Ronaldo, Portugal did not even get past the group stage.

Brazil: Winners or losers?

There will still be divided opinions on whether it was worth the US$11 billion price tag.

A nation will also forever mourn lives lost in the rush to build stadiums and highways.

But, overall, Brazil came up winners in 2014. They were by far the best team, and I am not talking about Scolari and his weeping men here. From the volunteers, to the policemen (who did not mind posing for picture with fans) to the fans and citizens in the 12 host cities, they made the world feel welcomed in a place not many were familiar with.

Sure there are issues the Brazilian government must address: crime, poverty, more funding for health and education. But these problems existed before and will continue to do so after.

But at least because of the World Cup, the world is now confident that Brazil can be a good and safe host, qualities which will be crucial for the 2016 Olympics as the country battles the same problems of funding and scheduling issues again.

Was this the greatest World Cup?

With 171 goals scored, equalling the record set in France 1998, a brilliant goal to decide the 2014 champions, great goals from Rodriguez, Flying Dutchman Robin van Persie and Tim Cahill's wonder strike, Brazil 2014 has to be ranked among the top, but not quite the greatest.

To earn the greatest accolade in my book requires a great team. And while Germany came close, showing their own brand of short-passing football that could see them dominating the game like Spain did, they were not great for all seven matches.

They are up there too, but still lack the aura of Brazil 1970 or 1982, the spirit of England 1966 or the magic of Argentina 1986.

Brazil 2014 will be remembered as having a great start, a poor knockout stage which was saved by a humbling of a great nation and a wonder goal to win the title.

It is not the best, but for a tournament which many had predicted scenarios of doom and gloom, being among the greatest is something to proud of.

This article was first published on July 16, 2014.
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