Who Was the Real Next-Best Team at the World Cup?
Germany won the World Cup 2014, and there's no doubt they were the tournament's crème de la crème.
Some would argue that Argentina, who reached the finals, are the next best of the lot, but in bracket play, that accomplishment alone cannot justify this.
FIFA's quadrennial bootfest was full of drama, ups and downs, and special moments. There were bursts of individual brilliance and spectacular teamwork.
Altogether, it was a complete football experience for the viewers.
Now that the World Cup has been done and dusted, which team was the next best? To answer this, let's break down four key aspects:
A total of 171 goals were scored in the tournament, an average of 2.67 per match. Germany led the goal difference chart with +14, which is obvious for the world champions. Second is the Netherlands with +11, followed by one of the tournament's surprise sides, Columbia, with +8. France comes in at No 4 with +7. Then comes Argentina with +4. The host country, Brazil, had a humiliating campaign as evidenced by its negative goal difference of -3.
World Cup 2014 saw many heroes in the goalkeepers' ranks. Strikers were outshone by their heroic saves on numerous occasions. Costa Rica's Keylor Navas, for example, won the same number of Man of the Match awards (4) as Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi. And Tim Howard put on a clinic against Belgium.
As to clean sheets, Germany, Argentina, and Netherlands topped the list with four. The Argentines and Dutch held the most consecutive clean sheets with three. But the side conceding the least goals was France, with three. Argentina, Netherlands and Columbia only allowed four.
It's one thing to win a football match, but the best do so with elegance. Violent tactics often lead to disadvantage. The total numbers of yellow and red cards issued in the tournament were 188 and 10, respectively. The most brutal foul that everyone remembers -- but drew no ramifications -- is the tackle on Neymar by Colombia's Juan Zuniga that forced the Brazilian out for the rest of the World Cup. O the teams mentioned here, Colombia and France conceded only five yellows, followed by Argentina with eight. The Netherlands came in last with eleven yellows.
It seems logical to think that the teams that qualiied higher up the table are the better ones. But it's not always accurate. In the 2010 tournament, Germany were considered by many as the best team but weren't the champions. The average points earned by the Netherlands throughout the 2014 campaign is the second only to Die Mannschaft. Holland earned an average of 2.43, followed by Colombia (2.40), Argentina (2.29), and France (2.00).
Based on the facts and figures represented by the samples above, it's fair to say that the Netherlands was the next best team at World Cup 2014, performance-wise and attacking-wise.
Their highlight was the dismantling of 2010 World Champion Spain, 5-1.
They would've preferred that to be their next best memory of the event, but until FIFA does what North American sports do and allow playoff games to be determined by regular play, the Dutch and every other team deadlocked after 120 minutes must survive a fluky shootout to prevail.