World Cup left plenty of memories

By Brian Showalter

The 2014 World Cup was the 11th that I’ve watched since 1974, and it was the best by far.

The quality of play was excellent throughout with many matches decided in extra time or very late in the normal 90 minutes.

There were very few scoreless draws in the group stage, and loads of goals were scored, which helped satisfy one of the demands of many American viewers who have only a passing interest in the sport.

It was hard not to be interested in this tournament as millions of viewers proved.

Here are some things that I’ll always remember about the 2014 World Cup:

n Enner Valencia sobbing like a baby during the Ecuador national anthem as he remembered his close friend Christian Benitez, who had led the team in scoring until he suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 27 in July 2013. Valencia, who is not known for being a prolific scorer, managed to score three goals in the three games Ecuador played.

n Robin Van Persie’s flying header that went viral on the Internet in the Netherlands’ destruction of defending champion Spain.

n A government official from Ghana arriving in Brazil, carrying $3 million because the country’s players hadn’t been paid.

n The courage of the Nigerian team that knew that every time it played in the tournament, Boko Horam, an Islamic terrorist organization in Nigeria, would set off blasts that would kill many Nigerian fans who were gathered to watch the matches. It must have made them extremely ambivalent about making it into the knockout round.

n Tim Howard’s incredible performance in goal for the USA in its 2-1 extra-time loss to Belgium in which he made a record 15 saves, which had never been done in World Cup history.

n An American referee, Mark Geiger, was selected as match referee for two matches and did an outstanding job as you hardly noticed his presence on the pitch.

n Luis Suarez of Uruguay, one of the very best players in the world, biting an Italian center back, Giorgio Chiellini, in front of the 34 cameras that showed it to the entire planet. Suarez then acted as if he were the aggrieved party. He has now bitten opponents in three different nations on two continents. Although he was banned by FIFA for four months, he has just signed a new contract that moves him from Liverpool in the English Premier League to Barcelona in La Liga. He will now be playing alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar. Is this a penalty for being a criminal?

n The Teutonic construction of an autobahn through the Brazilian penalty area by the Germans in their 7-1 thrashing of Brazil who had never suffered such a defeat in their history. On the Internet someone superimposed German Chancellor Angela Merkel with outstretched arms over the Christ of the Andes outside Rio de Janeiro. It will be a very long time before there is another match that could top this one.

n On June 22, the Sunday when the USA played Portugal, I drove home at around 10 p.m. in a town that has no organized soccer to see three adolescents kicking a soccer ball down the street in the dark. What might this mean?

n I’ve harassed the Altoona Mirror for two decades about its soccer coverage, but the paper did an excellent job following the tournament from day to day, even on days when there were no matches. In Friday’s Mirror, I saw the MLS standings for the first time in my memory and Tom Schmitt is doing a good job with his occasional commentary. I thank the Mirror for these vast improvements in reporting about the beautiful game.

(Showalter resides in Harrisburg but is a native of Williamsburg.)