The sheer verve and entertainment of this year’s World Cup has wowed even the most cynical. Even Brazilians, who greeted the tournament with street protests and for whom its economic benefits look dubious, have been putting their doubts to one side as their country marches towards the semi-final next week. Opinion polls show their pride in the World Cup has been rising—as has president Dilma Rousseff’s popularity ahead of an October election. And in terms of sport at least, there are signs this could be the best World Cup ever.
- It is on track for the most goals ever. So far, before the quarter-finals, 154 goals have been scored, more than at the previous tournament in South Africa. The tally to beat is 171 goals scored at France ’98. There have also been 2.75 goals per game, more than any World Cup since 1982 in Spain.
- This World Cup has already seen the lead change hands in 11 matches, more than in any modern tournament. Nothing makes soccer more exciting than when the balance of power shifts in the middle of the game.
- The Latin American resurgence is real. This year featured four Latin American and four European teams. In 2010, it was four Latin American teams versus three from the center of power, Europe. In 1990, only one team from the continent made it through to the final eight. The biggest stage has proven that all the Argentines and Colombians and Brazilians are playing for the best European teams for a reason.
- The best player in the world may be proving to be the best ever. Argentina’s Lionel Messi has singlehandedly forced his team into the quarter-finals and FiveThirtyEight’s analysis describes him as “impossible” in terms of goals, quality of passing, taking on defenders and every other measure. Messi has now proven everything there is to prove. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, not so much.
- It gets said every four years, but this really is the year that Americans have finally discovered the beautiful game. The numbers prove it. An average of 14 million watched each USA game, with almost 25 million watching the World Cup game between USA and Portugal on ESPN and Univision—more than watched the National Basketball Association finals or the baseball World Series. (Still, that’s a fifth of the number who watched the Super Bowl, so American football still rules supreme.)
- No matter who wins, this is the start of a new era in world soccer. Spain has dominated for six years, winning the last World Cup and the past two European tournaments. This time, it was humiliatingly thrown out after two games. The core of Spain’s team is from Barcelona, which failed to win anything last season for the first time since 2007-08. The philosophy of tiki-taka is clearly at a tactical end. What comes next? Stay tuned.
- The online media coverage has been superb, ably assisted by technology allowing everyone to participate. We had everything from the spot the missing ball game to the World Cup of arm-folding to sad footballers. And what memes! Truly, we are entering a golden age of soccer social media.
World Cups are uncompromising, brutal, emotional affairs that invariably end in heartbreak for all but a few. But that's why we love them.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) July 5, 2014