World Cup 2014: Thank you for the memories

2014-07-13 06:00

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At the end of the day, sport is about memories.

It’s all about these conversations that you will have with family, friends and colleagues for years to come. It’s about the random chats with strangers at taxi ranks and airport queues. In fact, it is often the only link that you may have with a sworn enemy who allows you to engage in chitchat when you really have nothing to say to each other.

By virtue of its status as the most beautiful sport invented by mankind, football has the best ability to create memories. It is played, watched and commented upon by most sane humans.

And it has the incredible ability to shock and surprise like no other human endeavour.

The 2014 World Cup certainly did not disappoint in the memories department. Even before the first whistle was blown, we were treated to the stuff that memories are made of in the form of a scantily clad Jennifer Lopez performing in the opening ceremony.

Once the Brazil/Croatia game got under way, the usually impeccable Marcelo gave the tens of millions who were watching around the world their first talking point when he scored an embarrassing own goal in the 11th minute. The blunder, which YouTubers and social media addicts played over and over, was an unthinkable prospect from this tower of Real Madrid and Brazil. His expression afterwards was like that of a four-year-old who had unsuccessfully tried to conceal that he’d wet his bed.

Fortunately for Marcelo, his own goal was quickly displaced from the talking-point perch the very next day when Robin van Persie scored a contender for Goal of the Tournament. The Netherlands captain’s flying header left Spain’s Iker Casillas looking like an amateur and inspired clever techies to super-impose a Superman cape on the social media replays that went viral.

That goal was to herald a night of misery for the reigning champions as Netherlands went on to thump Spain 5-1. It was special. Not only did the Netherlands avenge their extra-time loss to Spain in the 2010 final, they did it with finesse.

The goal deluge of that night was to be followed by floods of goals in the group stages, beautiful goals that rendered this the highest scoring World Cup. Some were beautiful. Some were silly.

» Talk to us: What is your favourite World Cup 2014 memory? Leave your comment below or join the conversation on Twitter: @City_Press or Facebook.

In football – particularly in international tournaments – upsets are what keeps fans awake. They detest certainty and love it when the underdog takes a chunk of the big guy’s flesh. Brazil 2014 provided plenty of these. From Costa Rica’s giant-killing spree to Iran’s stubborn defence refusing to succumb to pressure, to Chile adding to Spain’s pain, this cup had us unable to risk missing out on those late-night games. Brazil’s genuflection before Germany will always rank as one of the most awe-inspiring moments in football history.

There were the early exits of world powers England, Spain and Italy – all of whom arrived in Brazil expecting to at least get to the quarterfinals.

No World Cup is complete without bad behaviour. Yes we call it the beautiful game and would all love just to enjoy the artistry. But the ugly moments that blot Fifa’s Fair Play philosophy add just as much to the drama as the skills of the dribblers and the valour of the goalkeepers.

Will we ever stop talking about the bite by Luis Suárez, the match-winning diving antics of Arjen Robben and Juan Zúñiga’s vertebrae-breaking assault on Neymar? Never. These will join Diego Maradona’s Hand of God incident and Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt in World Cup lore.

But it is really the heroes who make the World Cup memorable. And while we are prone to singling out the prolific strikers and grafting midfielders as the heroes, those at the back deserve as much in the way of accolades. We overlook the defenders who keep danger at bay and the goalkeepers who keep the score sheet clean or just respectable.

The memories of 2014 that I will treasure the most will be the goalkeeping exploits – those moments of bravery that kept the cruelly aerodynamic Brazuca ball out of the net. In this respect I would single out the USA’s Tim Howard, whose record-breaking 16 saves in the clash against Belgium were out of this world.

Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas would get my vote for the role he played in his country’s amazing run. There would be Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama, who pulled off magnificent saves which, had his team-mates played with his vigour, would have seen Nigeria progress beyond the group stages and maybe even further in the tourney. Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico would also get a badge of valour. I would add Ghana’s Fatau Dauda, who performed phenomenally despite being only the second-choice keeper in South Africa’s all-powerful Orlando Pirates side.

These men may never get to lift the World Cup, but their contributions in less star-studded teams are something to marvel at.

The end of the World Cup is also a time to say teary goodbyes to legends who will have given us incredible memories over the years. Come Russia 2018, there will be no Casillas, no Xabi Alonso, no Didier Drogba, no Steven Gerrard. We are unlikely to see Samuel Eto’o lace up. There is unlikely to be a Dani Alves or Miroslav Klose.

Our sentimental nature will not want to let them go. We would like them to go on and on creating memories. There is no need to despair. Football’s unstopping production line has already spewed forth new legends. We saw them on display in towns with melodic names as memorable as the football itself: Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, Recife and Curitiba.

These stars will be back in 2018 to create new memories in places whose names will not roll of the tongue so easily. Inshallah!

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