Now that this year's tournament is reaching its climax, it's a good time to look back on the competition and what's made it so great. There have been incredible finishes to games, wonderful Cinderella stories and some miraculous goals. Fans of the beautiful game haven't been starved for much and have been treated to one of the most entertaining World Cups of all time. However, with all the good, there has still been a great deal of disappointment. High expectations are placed on all these nations going in, but some have failed far worse than we could have expected.
This top 10 list will feature not only disappointing players, but different storylines that have just not lived up to the heights that we expect from this tournament.
10 Steven Gerrard
As will feel like the case with several of the players on this list, this feels like kicking a great player while he's down. Sadly, the legendary Liverpool midfielder did not cover himself in glory this competition. A costly mistake against Uruguay cost England that game and a chance at a place in the final 16. It's safe to say that more was expected of the English captain and I personally hope that he decides to continue until Euro 2016, for one last chance to go out on a high note.
9 Iker Casillas/Igor Akinfeev
The only similarity between these two is that they are both goalkeepers. Apart from that, both are at entirely different ends of the goalkeeping universe. Casillas has done it all, for both Club and Country, and will go down as one of the best keepers of his generation. Sadly, this tournament was not a good one for the 33-year-old. In what could be his last tournament as they may look to the younger David de Gea going forward, he did not go out in style, looking out of place for many of the goals against him and being relegated to the bench for the 3rd game (though they had already been eliminated).
In the case of Akifneev, he's a name on the rise. The 28-year-old is being pushed as one of the top goalkeepers in the game and this tournament was his chance to solidify that. However, he and the entire Russian national team were underwhelming, with Akinfeev's worst moment coming versus South Korea as he put the ball into his own net. He needs to come back strong in order to solidify his role as Russia's keeper in 2018, when Russia hosts the World Cup.
8 Ghana's Scandal
Over the last decade, no African nation has been more exciting to watch than Ghana. Just ask American soccer fans, as they eliminated the US in the previous two World Cups. This year, in a difficult group, Ghana made noise for all the wrong reasons. Despite playing hard in all 3 of their games, it was their off-field issues that stole the show. Kevin-Prince Boateng (who could've been an entry on his own for his poor play) and Sulley Muntari, two former AC Milan teammates, allegedly got into a fight on the practice field and were sent home. Boateng claims he was sent home because he asked Ghana's FA where all the money from the World Cup went. On top of this, there were rumors that Ghana's players would boycott their last game if they weren't sent their bonuses, all while Ghana as a country is in an economic crisis. All in all, a very disappointing tournament from a typically exciting nation.
What a surprise. A foolish moment of rage got Pepe a red card and sealed his team's fate early in the tournament. After Thomas Muller baited him, Pepe headbutted the Bayern Munich star, got himself sent off and watched Portugal get pummelled. The beating was so bad that despite Portugal tying their 2nd game and winning their last game, they were eliminated on goal difference. It's not always easy, or fair, to point fingers at one player on a team, but in this case, it's entirely his fault. Had he not been so ill-tempered, it's likely Portugal wouldn't have lost 4-0 and gone out on goal difference. So a huge thumbs down to the Madrid man.
6 Lack of Technology
Wonderful, FIFA finally got goal-line technology. A huge round of applause to everyone involved. Now, become like every other major sport in the world and use real technology to help your officials out. It's impossible for four refs to see everything that happens on a field. Sometimes the action is not easily visible (like a chomp on the shoulder) and the refs would need some kind of review system to make the right call. Fans deserve the fairest representation of the sport and having a review system would be the right way to go. In the case of Luis Suarez and his infamous bite on Giorgio Chiellini, a red card there likely means that Italy goes through and not Uruguay, as Uruguay scored a minute after the bite took place. Why not have the 4th official with a monitor in front of him, who can see what took place, relay that information to the others and get the calls right. Let me reiterate, every other major sports uses video technology. Wake up, FIFA!
5 Netherlands vs Spain / Portugal vs Germany / Brazil vs Germany
When the groups were announced, fans of the game were instantly excited for two big games. Two games involving Europeans powerhouses promised to bring us some of the best action of the World Cup. Well, that wasn't the case at all. The Netherlands/Spain game had a rocky start, with Spain given a non-existent penalty, which they converted. Fast forward to the end of the game and the Dutch demolished Spain 5-1 in a one-sided affair. As a much as I personally enjoyed the match, the game failed to live up to expectations.
The Portugal/Germany game was discussed a little bit before when talking about Pepe, but this game was another example of a game we all circled on the calender which disappointed us. Down 2-0 to Germany, Pepe received a red card and the much anticipated game was over in the 37th minute. Germany went on to win 4-0. Very disappointing to say the least.
There's not much to say about this match besides the fact that Brazil simply didn't show up to play. By the 30th minute Brazil had lost total control of the game and were in a downward spiral en route to a 7-1 shellacking at the hands of the Germans that saw the entire country in tears. The absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva was surely a factor in Brazil's embarrassing performance, but there really was no excuse for such a lopsided defeat.
4 Diego Costa
This was the year of Atletico Madrid. The smaller Madrid team came out of nowhere to make the Champions League final and win La Liga. At the front of the action for Atletico was Diego Costa who was now expected to lead the way for Spain. Instead, Costa looked terrible in the first two games and was replaced by Fernando Torres in the starting lineup for the 3rd game. He's now completed a big money move to Chelsea, but his performance on this huge stage must be making Jose Mourinho a little bit nervous. Well, any coach other than Mourinho might be nervous.
3 The Officials
As mentioned earlier, the officials need help in a big way. At the same time, they quite simply need to be better. A variety of games were marred with terrible calls and non-existent penalties. The first game of the World Cup had the hosts Brazil going up against Croatia. When the game ended, it was impossible not to feel as though the Croatians were hard done by the officials. A terrible penalty was given after Fred was barely grazed by Dejan Lovren with the game at 1-1. Fast forward to the Bosnia vs Nigeria game, where Edin Dzeko was robbed of a goal with a terrible offside call and other dubious calls were made. There were several other terribly officiated games, with the most recent being Brazil vs Columbia, as the Brazilian players would clatter into James Rodriguez every time he went near the ball and there were no cards given. This led Radamel Falcao of Columbia to say "For the next match, remember to call the referee, who today didn’t show up."
The officials do need help, but they also need to better.
2 Mario Balotelli
Wherever he goes, the public attention follows him. This is because there are few players as talented/crazy as Mario in the game. Anyone who's heard of Balotelli before knows that he's a bit of a loose cannon despite his world class ability. His World Cup started off in fine fashion as he managed a goal against the English, but he struggled against Costa Rica and Uruguay, even being substituted at half time vs Uruguay for getting a dumb yellow card. For all his talents and ability, we expected a lot more from the Italian striker. President of Milan, Silvio Berlusconi, then said “I was about to sell Balotelli to an English team for several millions. But after this World Cup who will buy him any more?" Safe to say that this has been a month to forget for the Italian striker.
1 Injuries to Top Players
The fault doesn't lie with anyone in particular for this disappointment, but it feels as though we've been cheated from seeing some of our favorite players on the big stage. It started before the tournament even began, as Columbia's best player Radamel Falcao went down with a devastating knee injury. Then, before the tournament started, there were rumors of a Cristiano Ronaldo injury, that definitely hampered his play. We never got to see CR7 really play up to his ability because of it. Sergio Aguero only played in Argentina's first game, though he's expected back for their semifinal clash with the Dutch. Other quality players missed out as well like Kevin Strootman of Holland, Theo Walcott of England and Riccardo Montolivo of Italy.
The worst came in the quarterfinals as both Angel Di Maria and Neymar went down with significant injuries that have taken them out of the semifinals. The more serious injury coming to Neymar who suffered a fractured vertebrae. The reactions to his injury from his fellow players and the public have been emotional, as this sad injury has really put a damper on this exciting event and may have significantly contributed to Brazil's embarrassing 7-1 loss to Germany.