Immediately prior to the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, most media outlets were content to report on local outrage at the staging of FIFA's premier football tournament.
News wires centred on expected large-scale protests and for a country so synonymous with the beautiful game, football seemed a very distant second place for many Brazilians.
How suddenly the mood of a nation changes,Â within 90 minutes of the first ball being kicked, the favelas were awash with colour.
The football-mad nation staged impromptu beach parties and the protestors had fallen silent as the samba beat filled the air.
The group stages were a delight to watch throughout and kicked off what has become one of the best World Cups in recent memory. Who can forget the astonishing 5-1 loss of Spain to a Robin van Persie inspired Netherlands, the stunning Group of death upsets as Costa Rica swept past Uruguay and Italy, or Germanyâ€™s 4-0 dispatch of a toothless Portugal for whom Cristiano Ronaldo was completely anonymous?
But the real treat of the tournament by far, was the rise of the underdogs. Much fancied teams like Spain, Italy and England were shown the exit door in the group stages.
Chile, with an impressive forward line of Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, beat Spain 2-0 to knock out the 2010 World Cup winners.Â La Roja were up against hosts Brazil in the round of 16Â and didn't disappoint with a more than impressive performance which took the hosts well beyond their comfort zone, but it were the hosts that advanced to the quartefinals by a penalty shootout.
MexicoÂ in Group A with hosts Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon, were one of the best counter attacking sides in the World Cup. El Tri finished second in Group A behind hosts Brazil and faced a rampant Dutch side in the round of 16.Â The team from CONCACAF were just two minutes from the last eight until Wesley Sneijderâ€™s superb half-volley and a Klaas-Jan Huntelaar penalty put the Europeans through.Â Arguably the hero for El tri has been their goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa. A string of excellent saves against Brazil and Netherlands were the highlight of his and Mexico's World Cup campaign.
Colombia breezed past the group stages after scoring 9 goals in 3 games and conceding just 2.Â James Rodriguez. A name to remember, this 22-year old Colombian playmaker lit up the World Cup with wonderful displays of skill and god gifted talent. James is the current top scorer at the 2014 FIFA World Cup with 6 goals.Â His 2 goals against Uruguay helped the Colombians get through to the quarterfinals.Â James' first goal against the Uruguayans has been voted as one of the best goals of the tournament so far.Â Colombia lost 2-1 to Brazil in the quartefinals but the game was marred by Neymar's career threatening injury.Â
USAÂ were grouped with Germany, Portugal andÂ Ghana, and weren't expected to go far. But to everyone's surprise, the Americans impressedÂ after finishing second in their Group at Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo's expense.Â They faced Belgium in the round of 16 and took the game to extra time with a goalless 90 minutes.Â The Americans eventually succumbed to the pressure and lost 2-1, still putting up a more than impressive performance. Captain Clint Dempsey scored the fastest goal at this year's World Cup just after 29 seconds against Ghana.
Greece made it to the round of 16 thanks to a Giorgios Samaras penalty against Ivory Coast.Â Greece, mostly known for their strong defence, proved at this year's World Cup that they are a threat up front too. The strike force led by Samaras and Mitroglou were a constant threat to their opponents.Â The Greeks bowed out in the round of 16 to fellow minnows Costa Rica on a penalty shootout.
The biggest surprise of the World Cup wasÂ Costa Rica. Led by the ex Fulham player Bryan Ruiz, the Costa Ricans raised eyebrows with their performance after making it to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history. Grouped with giants England, Italy and Uruguay in the Group of Death,Â Los Ticos topped the Group beating Uruguay and Italy 3-1 and 1-0 respectively.Â They faced Greece in the quarterfinals and made it through via penalties.Â Costa Rica were knocked out in the quarterfinals by the Dutch.Â Los Ticos were definitely one of the most impressive sides at this FIFA World Cup 2014.
Algeria, in a relatively weak Group with Belgium, Russia and Korea Republic, made it into the last 16 after finishing second in the Group.Â They faced finalists Germany in the last 16 and put up a spectacular performance, taking Germany to the absolute limit.Â The Germans eventually scraped through with 2 goals in extra time, but Algeria bowed out with their head held high after the best World Cup campaign theyÂ ever had.
The unpredictability of results shows the extent to which football has developed in lesser-known countries, and teams can now build on this in future tournaments, thereby reflecting a more level playing field which in the past has been skewed towards European teams because of the quality they possess. The FIFA World Cup 2014 brought as much despair to those whoâ€™ve been on the receiving end of upsets as it has brought entertainment to football fans throughout the world.