This always promised to be a special FIFA World Cup™. Hosted by a nation that has come to represent the very best of football, edition number 20 of the beautiful game's greatest spectacle was never likely to be just like the others. And we were not disappointed. Brazil 2014 proved extraordinary in all sorts of ways, with packed stadiums and passionate crowds treated to thrills, upsets and a record number of goals.
It also witnessed Germany reclaim in style a Trophy they had won three times before and, in the process, become the first European team to triumph in the Americas. Joachim Low's side were worthy and impressive winners, although for the third World Cup in succession it required extra time to decide the Final, with Mario Gotze this time assuming the role that Andres Iniesta had occupied in 2010.
The substitute's brilliant 113th-minute winner also maintained Europe's grip on the World Cup, with the continent having now produced a record three consecutive champions. It was a goal that very nearly lifted the roof off Rio de Janeiro's iconic, incomparable Maracana, and which provided a fittingly inspiring conclusion to a truly unforgettable tournament.
Few teams have defined an era quite like the Spain side that, between 2008 and 2012, won three successive major tournaments. But all good things must come to an end and, for La Roja's golden generation, the curtain came down at Brazil 2014. It was a brutal, humbling conclusion to a captivating football story, with Vicente del Bosque's side consigned to early elimination after comprehensive defeats to the Netherlands and Chile. “In this World Cup, we have all failed," was Del Bosque's candid verdict. "Blame it on all of us."
Ticos lead lesser lights
Brazil 2014 may have ended with a battle for supremacy between Europe and South America, but this was a tournament in which other, less decorated continents also made history. Africa sent two teams through to the knockout stage for the first time in history, with Algeria in particular impressing - giving even the Germans a major scare - thanks to their quick, high-intensity style. But not even Les Fennecs could rival Costa Rica for the title of Brazil 2014's surprise packages. Los Ticos earned the hearts of neutrals everywhere, finishing ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay in a group in which no-one had given them a chance, before a valiant quarter-final defeat on penalties to the Netherlands.
Glory to the goalies
A high-scoring World Cup might suggest that the standard of goalkeeping was less than spectacular. Far from it. This was a tournament marked by outstanding performances from the men between the sticks, with the saves of men like Tim Howard, Keylor Navas, Guillermo Ochoa, Manuel Neuer and Sergio Romero as memorable as the goals of their outfield colleagues. Special mention should also go to Tim Krul, who came off the bench to inspire the Netherlands to shoot-out success in the quarter-finals, and Colombia's Faryd Mondragon, who became the oldest man to play at the World Cup three days after celebrating his 43rd birthday.
Hero to villain
The build-up to Uruguay's tournament was dominated by fears over Luis Suarez's fitness and, as soon as he took to the field, the striker showed why there had been such a fuss. Suarez was brilliant against England, scoring two outstanding goals to revive La Celeste's campaign after a defeat to Costa Rica in which his absence had been a telling factor. The next game, however, showcased the darker side to this hugely talented player, as Italy's Giorgio Chiellini became the latest player to fall victim to a Suarez bite. The consequences were predictably dire, with the player banned for nine matches and four months, and Uruguay - minus his dynamic influence - falling at the next hurdle against Colombia.
Skill and sportsmanship
Vision, trickery and spectacular goals ensured that, throughout his involvement in Brazil 2014, James Rodriguez was a joy to watch. And even when that involvement came to a tearful end against Brazil, it became apparent that the Colombia No10 had not only captivated the fans, but earned the esteem of his peers. After all, in one of the most touching gestures of the tournament, David Luiz made a point of comforting his crestfallen rival and calling for the Fortaleza crowd, who readily responded, to acclaim a unique talent.
Seleção's dream becomes a nightmare
This was meant to be the World Cup in which Brazil banished ghosts of 1950 and the infamous Maracanazo. As it was, they merely succeeded in creating fresh, even more painful memories by losing successive home matches for the first time since 1940. And these were no ordinary defeats, with Germany inflicting a 7-1 semi-final thrashing - equalling A Seleção's heaviest-ever defeat - before the Netherlands cruised to a 3-0 win in the Play-off for Third Place. It left the Brazilians, who had never conceded more than 11 in any of their previous World Cups, with 14 in the goals against column, ensuring that they became the first hosts to end with the tournament's worst defensive record.
Glory for Gotze
Brazil's 2014 campaign might have ended in ignominy, but only they can now claim to have won more World Cups than Germany, who equalled Italy's tally of four titles with their Rio de Janeiro triumph. But the margins by which Die Nationalmannschaft returned to the summit were predictably slim, with Argentina left to rue a trio of missed opportunities. Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi and Rodrigo Palacio all found themselves clean through on goal at different stages, and all three failed to find the target when a goal seemed likely. Gotze, by contrast, made the very most of what can best be described as a half-chance, providing a lesson in finishing to his Albiceleste counterparts and serving up a strike worthy of winning any Final.
Stat of the tournament
16 - The number of World Cup goals on which Miroslav Klose ended Brazil 2014, securing for himself the status of the tournament's all-time leading scorer. The 36-year-old found the net twice to eclipse the record set by Ronaldo at Germany 2006, and those goals - topped off by Gotze's Maracana winner - helped make this the joint-highest-scoring World Cup in history, equalling the record of 171 set at France 1998.