This fascination over whether this World Cup is The Best Ever © is an interesting one. It is, of course, completely futile, but that does not stop it being an interesting diversion.
This is no doubt this World Cup has been better than most, and on a totally different level compared to South Africa. But those World Cups in the 80s are hard to beat.
More goals do not necessarily mean better football, and a direct link would ruin all the fun, but there is a correlation. The running average of around three goals a match in pool play was a welcome piece of inflation, before things predictably tailored off once knockout football came along.
Nothing will ever match Maradonna in 1986, in a career defining tournament. Despite the media’s best attempts Neymar and Messi have been good, but not dominant.
The best attacking player on show was Colombia’s James Rodriguez, until Brazil was allowed to trample all over him for 90 minutes. There were enough glimpses from Kroos, Robben and a great goal from Van Persie to keep the big names in the light.
But the single best performance was from Javier Mascherano in the semi-final, and people tend to look the other way when a defender dominates.
There have been two crackers in Brazil that will live long in the memory. On the second day of the tournament The Netherlands dismantled defending champions and some people’s favourites Spain. They came from behind, and one of the most successful teams in world football history fell apart in front of our eyes.
Then that semi-final. Sixty years of heritage torn apart by a German side that kept on coming and coming and coming at them.
What it has lacked however is an end-to-end lead changing match at the knockout stages. That’s where those 80s cups edge it. The closest we have come to that here was the USA v Belgium Round of 16 match which packed a fair bit into its last 30 minutes.
Like it or not, you need a bit of that to keep things bubbling along, without affecting the actual outcome too much. A good controversy should be an isolate incident, and not something as important like when Argentina fortuitously beat Peru in 1978 to advance to the final, at home.
Here we had Suarez going for a nibble in pool play, followed by the curious side-show of the presidential welcome home. The tournament had its pre-ordained villain, he was out of the tournament, and his team were to last only a few days longer.
Then there was the Neymar injury following a brutal assault from Juan Zúñiga. It was a brutal challenge, but the feeling that given what Brazil had dished out that day, there was an element of justice about it.
But then things got a little silly. When the Brazil players held up his shirt during the national anthems in the semi-final you realised they has seriously lost their way. Meanwhile Zúñiga has hired security guards.
While not a controversy as such, it will be interesting to see whether this subbing on a keeper for a penalty shoot-out thing takes off.
The right number of upsets
Upsets are cool. The 2002 World Cup set the bar there. Not only were teams like France and Argentina eliminated in pool play but there was a global spread right through to the Quarters, with all five confederations advancing. But things fell flat there as sides over-achieved.
This cup had the right balance. Heavyweights Spain, Italy and Portugal were eliminated at pool play, and we enjoyed the runs of Costa Rica and Colombia. But, once we got to the business end it was the big guns who progressed. The fact the sides who topped their pool all made the Quarter Finals meant that, for the most part, the cream had risen.
Not a great final, but not a bad one either. It sits neatly between the 1986 and 90 finals between these two sides. Haguin’s first half miss was the sort of miss that will define a career, and Schweinsteiger put in the kind of master class that will re-enforce cultural stereotypes for years.
It was appropriate that the best team in the competition won it through a goal created by one substitute and scored by the other. Such depth. And Götze’s strike was probably the best in a final since Tardelli in Madrid.
The third play-off will not live long in the memory as a match, but the result, and its supporting part in the Demise of Brazil will.
One small blight on the aftermath was the ridiculous, and seemingly premeditated awarding of the Golden Ball award to Messi. At least half of those on the short-list of 10 could have laid better claims. It is ironic that in 2002 this award went to Oliver Kahn, despite a fumble directly leading to Brazil breaking the deadlock; here Neuer didn’t even make the shortlist.
So that summary in no way answers the “Best Ever?” question, which is just how it should be. Subjectivity is a wonderful thing.