Why the Fifa World Cup was the greatest ever
As the World Cup fades into distant memory and we all turn our attentions towards our favourite club side, let's take one last look as what a fantastic tournament played out for the past five weeks in Brazil and nominate our heroes, villains, highs and lows.
PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT
Arjen Robben electrified this World Cup. Rio buzzed with talk of his goals, dribbles, dashing runs and, of course, dives.
Robben has been impossible to ignore, the most consistent, relentless attacking force in an adventurous tournament. Liberated as a forward rather than a winger, the sight of him on the run has been one of the great thrills of the past month since he led the rout of Spain.
Teams tried everything to stop him. He was the victim of a series of lunges and scything challenges.
Mexico fullback Hector Moreno broke one of his own shins trying to hack Robben down. Javier Mascherano was so stretched by Robben that he "tore his anus" in the single most important tackle of the World Cup.
In the Netherlands' quarterfinal, four of the Costa Rica back five were booked for fouls on Robben. Thiago Silva should have been sent off for hauling him down on Saturday. The aggression he has endured cannot excuse the theatrical tumbles, but it does provide context - Robben, more than any player, has taken his man on.
When you consider those who must make the best XI of Brazil 2014, the first two names are Robben and Manuel Neuer.
The Germany goalkeeper has laid unarguable claim to being the best in his position, batting away shots with his hands as though laughing at the feeble attempts to beat him.
James Rodriguez deserves recognition as the breakthrough star, graceful, spectacular and decisive for Colombia. Mascherano, Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller will be among those asking how they failed to make the podium, but as either opponents or club team-mates of Robben, they will surely recognise that he has enjoyed the best of World Cups.
TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT (4-2-3-1)
Manuel Neuer (Germany)
Many strong contenders, including Tim Howard, Rais M'Bolhi and Keylor Navas, but in this tournament Neuer has reaffirmed his position as the world's best.
Pablo Zabaleta (Argentina)
An old-fashioned fullback for the modern age. Fearless, combative but always fair, the Manchester City defender has had an excellent tournament.
Mats Hummels (Germany)
Rarely flustered, always in the right place, he is already among the world's best central defenders
and will remain so for a long time.
Giancarlo Gonzalez (Costa Rica)
A leader and a fierce competitor, but also an organiser and a strategist.
Philipp Lahm (Germany)
Started the tournament in midfield, excelled at right back and is included at left back here because his versatility allows the tournament's two best fullbacks to be included.
Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
Display against Netherland in the semifinal, when he blocked Arjen Robben's goalbound shot in stoppage time, was inspiring.
Toni Kroos (Germany)
The epitome of control, composure and understated creativity. He defined the 7-1 victory over Brazil.
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
What an irritant, but what a player. He started with a superb display in the 5-1 win over Spain and continued to terrorise opponents throughout.
Thomas Muller (Germany)
When it comes to intelligence and instinct, few are better than Muller. At 24, he already looks set to beat Miroslav Klose's record as highest World Cup goalscorer.
James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Made his mark with some wonderful moments and goals - above all that, stunning chest-and-volley against Uruguay.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
He has rarely reached the heights of his Barcelona pomp but to overlook him would be to take his brilliance for granted.
FLOPS OF THE TOURNAMENT
Iker Casillas: The Spain captain became a symbol of his side's sudden collapse only weeks after lifting the Champions League.
Pepe: Shares Luis Suarez's penchant for idiotic recidivism without the redemptive talent.
Steven Gerrard: An ill-deserved ignominious farewell to the grandest stage given his service to England.
Hulk: Pretty much his only contribution in the five matches he started for Brazil was a yellow card in the round-of-16 tie against Chile.
Fred: Did not deserve his unofficial position as the whipping boy for a nation of 200m people, but his role as Brazil's No 9 was equally unmerited.
Fabio Capello (coach): Capello for underachieving on a grand scale in a second successive tournament.
FIVE REASONS WHY THE WORLD CUP WAS THE GREATEST EVER
The invasion: They came in vast, incomprehensible numbers. They came on planes and in camper vans and, in the case of 3000 Mexicans, on a cruise liner. They came from across Latin America, hundreds of thousands of them. If Brazil deserves credit for hosting a month-long party, it is her neighbours who should be thanked for making it what the kids call "epic". The Colombians, Chileans and Argentinians - so many Argentinians - brought the booze and turned up the volume.
USA! USA!: This was not so much the tournament when the United States fell in love with football, but the tournament when the rest of the football world fell a bit in love with them. Their Californian-Bavarian coach, their charismatic fans, their hard-working team and the sense that the massive street parties back home to watch games were really annoying traditionalists, anti-Europeans and Republicans: This is a USA we can get on board with.
James Rodriguez: The scorer of arguably the goal of the tournament, owner of possibly the most engaging smile of the tournament, the best dancer at the tournament and certainly the breakout star of the tournament: Rodriguez may have left the World Cup in tears, but he did so having won over a legion of fans. Much the same could be said of his team. Colombia, like Chile, became the neutrals' favourites for their style, courage and menace.
Miguel Herrera: Mexico's coach might have the look of British right wing politician Nick Griffin after a particularly heavy night, but his frenzied, passionate celebrations still managed to be heart-warming. It was fitting too, as this was a Latin tournament by location and inclination. Every goal was greeted with a display of unbounded glee, whether it was the winner in a quarterfinal or the third in a meaningless group-stage game. Everyone followed Herrera's lead. He was just better at it.
The goalkeeping: Guillermo Ochoa, Keylor Navas, Rais M'Bolhi, Tim Howard: All have shone over the past month. Howard's 16 saves for the United States against Belgium ensured his place in history, and Navas' Costa Rica went farthest in the competition, but it is hard to beat Ochoa's display for Mexico against Brazil for sheer, bloody-minded defiance.