WORLD CUP 2014 REVIEW

Calcio’s month in the sun

From record breakers to award winners, Serie A players were centre stage in Brazil. Luca Cetta recaps the best and worst from calcio’s representatives.

As the World Cup final dawned, only three clubs knew that no matter the result between Germany and Argentina, one of their players would a world champion. There was Real Madrid, then Lazio and Sampdoria. From a pool of 81 players, Serie A was the second highest represented league in Brazil, behind England’s Premier League. And when the dust settled at the Maracana, Miroslav Klose and Shkodran Mustafi were left smiling.

The two players could not have faced more differing paths. Klose was Germany’s only survivor from the 2002 World Cup Final loss to Brazil and made history by becoming the tournament’s all-time leading scorer. After four semi-finals, the Lazio marksman finally got his hands on the trophy.

Mustafi’s adventure was set to be brief. Cut from the initial 30-man squad, Marco Reus’ pre-tournament injury saw the defender drafted in. Mustafi earned just his second cap when Mats Hummels hobbled off against Portugal and would go on to make two more appearances – including a start against Algeria – before an injury ended his campaign in that Round of 16 encounter.

Were it not for missed chances, perhaps Lazio and Sampdoria’s other representatives would be celebrating. Lucas Biglia and Sergio Romero – on loan at Monaco – started for Argentina, alongside Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain. Before being beaten by Mario Gotze’s moment of magic, Romero’s 485 minute clean sheet streak put him third on the all-time World Cup list, only behind Walter Zenga and Peter Shilton.

Higuain will look back on his spurned first half opportunity as a defining moment. The Napoli striker departed Brazil with one goal to his name and never hit the heights of four years ago, nor his debut Neapolitan campaign. Inter’s Rodrigo Palacio will also look back on his extra-time chance and wonder.

Others from Serie A may not have gone as far, but shone nonetheless. Dries Mertens sparkled for a Belgium side that didn’t exhibit the free flowing football expected of it. The winger got their campaign off and running with a late winner against Algeria and was subsequently a regular. France’s Paul Pogba was named the Best Young Player. His tournament included one goal and a moment of ill discipline, but was a building block for the future.

Colombia – littered with Serie A throughout its ranks – advanced to the last eight for the first time, their campaign built on the defensive wall of Mario Yepes and Cristian Zapata. The 38-year-old was playing in his first World Cup, but looked a four-tournament veteran. Juan Cuadrado highlighted Colombia’s flamboyance that won the world over. His value has increased thanks to his performances.

Other Serie A stars will be remembered for major incidents. Juan Zuniga’s challenge on Neymar put Brazil’s great hope out of the tournament and with it came unsavoury threats made by irate locals. Zuniga insisted it was an honest challenge gone wrong.

Perhaps Brazil would not have made it that far had Mauricio Pinilla’s shot been centimetres lower. Instead, the Chilean struck the bar – later missing in the penalty shootout – and has a tattoo to commemorate the nearly moment. On the Chilean front, Arturo Vidal’s lingering knee injury meant the Juventus warrior was unable to give his best throughout.

Bianconeri teammate Stephan Lichtsteiner’s mistake was the catalyst Switzerland’s extra-time elimination against Argentina. It could have been different had Blerim Dzemaili’s late header not rebounded off the woodwork.

Then there’s the Italians. Claudio Marchisio experienced the highs and lows of football. He scored the opening goal against England, but was sent off in the crucial third game with Uruguay. Midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo started in superb fashion, but bowed out – prematurely for Italy’s liking – after the last match.

Matteo Darmian was one to shine, while Giorgio Chiellini will be remembered as bite victim No 3. Not that he had much better to look back on. And what to make of Mario Balotelli? From scoring the winner against England, he was then made a focal point of the elimination.

It was an enthralling month, of which Serie A’s contingent played a massive part. And it ended with Klose becoming Lazio’s fifth world champion, while Mustafi became the first Blucerchiati king of world football.