|Colombia’s James Rodriguez with teammates Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (top) and Juan Camilo Zuniga during match versus Greece, in Belo Horizonte
Soundbite or not, Luis Suarez has now apologised to the “entire football family” for that bite, but he’s the one missing out. Suarez is the one whose folly brought his deserved eviction from the greatest party the entire football family has ever seen. Game after game, goal after goal, this World Cup has been truly special, comfortably the most magnificent of the seven this observer has attended.
Bar-room disputes could break out over which has been the best game. Spain 1 Holland 5? Spain 0 Chile 2? Germany 2 Ghana 2? USA 2 Portugal 2? Nigeria 2 Argentina 3? Colombia 2 Uruguay 0? These are scorelines so eye-catching they could run as headlines.
Arguments would be long and loud over establishing which has been the most thrilling goal of the tournament so far. Eduardo Vargas’s wonderful vision and dexterity against Spain? Jermaine Jones’s thunder-bolt against Portugal?
Tim Cahill’s left-foot volley against Holland? Lionel Messi’s late, superbly struck winner against Iran? Robin van Persie’s flying header against Spain? Fernandinho’s Futsal climax to an incisive Brazilian attack against Cameroon? James Rodriguez’s breath-taking strike against Uruguay?
Any of Rodriguez’s gems for that matter.
It is not simply the quality, but the quantity. The total achieved in South Africa four years ago, 145, was equalled with 12 games to play and was passed when Paul Pogba headed in for France against Nigeria on Monday.
“Hold on” was the immediate reaction when it was claimed that Rodriguez’s goal against Uruguay had already tied up the goal of the World Cup competition; there could be even better ones. This is the tournament that keeps on giving, keeps on entertaining.
Indifferent defending helps. Many defenders are clearly wary of tackling because of the tweaks in the interpretations of the Laws. For such an experienced international centre-half, Mexico’s Rafael Marquez was naive to challenge Arjen Robben in the manner he did during their round of 16 match.
In the modern game, the referee was always going to award the penalty because of the contact, regardless of any distaste for the flowing Dutchman’s theatrical reaction.
How many great, or potentially great centre-halves, are there out here?
Few. Rafael Varane of France continues to impress but this has not been a tournament celebrating the obdurate. It is the world of the predators, players assisted by the Brazuca being a truer ball compared to the awful Jabulani in South Africa.
Wonderful players have delivered in Brazil from Robben to Messi to Rodriguez. Alexis Sanchez has returned home but the Chilean forward was a joy to watch. There seems an undeniable sense of their understanding that a World Cup in Brazil has to be about expressing the joys of football.
This is a competition of stars but no star team (partly because of the defensive issue). Brazil and Argentina have problems at the back. Holland are very good but not truly dominant. A case can arguably be made for France, who have a strong spine, a strong ethos and a sensible coach in Didier Deschamps.
For a man dubbed the water-carrier, Deschamps could be heading towards the Champagne. Deschamps’ decision to leave Samir Nasri behind was vindicated long before France reached the quarter finals.
The quality of coaching has added to this celebration. Manchester United supporters’ excitement over the appointment of Louis van Gaal must have increased at watching how he influences a game, changing from 5-3-2 to 4-3-3 during the matches against Australia and Mexico.
He is not in thrall to the stars, either, a trait seen when he withdrew Van Persie for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with 14 minutes left against Mexico. Of Huntelaar’s seven touches, one was an assist, the other the winning penalty after Robben was fouled.
Again, disappointment needs recording that Roy Hodgson has not returned to Brazil to watch masters of the managerial craft like Van Gaal at work at close quarters. Hodgson knows Van Gaal and could have attended training, talking to the Dutch maestro, also building further a relationship with the new leader of Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones and other England internationals.
Off the field, the party goes on and on. Mexico will be missed not only for their football but also the charismatic nature of those who follow them; probably only the French fans, who have travelled in numbers, can match the Mexicans for hats. The American choirs chanting “I believe that we will win” simply reflect the inexorable rise of the sport in their country, and that they are now a respected force in the global game.
What this World Cup has also highlighted is that international football remains the pinnacle, that even the Champions League cannot compete with the ode to joy that comes when the fans and players are powering through their national anthems.
The atmosphere in Belo Horizonte where Brazil scraped through against Chile was the most intense, almost visceral I’ve ever experienced. The fear of course is that the mood could turn if Brazil go out against Colombia.
Protests have been smaller than expected. On Sunday evening, a group of 100 with a “Fifa Go Home” banner marched along the Copacabana. It is often the way with events that the build-up focuses on the negative — witness London 2012 and Euro 2012 — because the real positives, the great sporting moments to cherish, have yet to occur.
Sadly, any trip away from stadia here confirms the impoverished circumstances endured by many Brazilians.
Brazil’s match in Belo Horizonte registered 16.4 million tweets. Figures released by Fifa often need close scrutiny but the numbers revealed by Sepp Blatter’s boffins on Monday signal the phenomenal interest. Facebook recorded 220m people have made 1billion posts since the opening game on June 12. The world is tuning in to the World Cup.
Somewhere in Uruguay, Suarez will be watching, knowing he is missing something very special.