Brazil’s World Cup hinted at a return to past glories but fell short

The 2014 World Cup missed its chance of greatness, despite a thrilling start, and proved a product of an increasingly homogenised international game, subservient to club football
Eyewitness: Holland shook up the World Cup with 5-1 humbling of Spain
Dominic Fifield: Looking back at Germany v Brazil

Like so many allegedly great things – great books, great men, Great Britain – it is tempting to conclude that Great World Cups are notions that belong exclusively to the past. According to most scholarly opinion the one thing the contenders for the canon all have in common is that, in all probability, you never got to see them happen. The 1938 World Cup in France was, they say, a fraught and gripping affair. The postwar years 1950-1958 brought a thrilling sense of new frontiers, a sport still in a state of furious expansion. Mexico 1970 has been enshrined in perpetuity as a kind of footballing Woodstock, a free-form, love-beaded triumph of the sporting imagination.

Since when the World Cup has given us great moments: Brazil’s indolent charm in 1982; the brilliance of Diego Maradona; fine teams from Holland, France and Spain; and beyond this a kind of high-grade uniformity, a hammering out of those exhilarating extremes into the single, homogenised substance that is now elite level international football.

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