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The good, the bad and the ugly at the World Cup

World Cups have multiple legacies.

James Rodriguez lit up the World Cup with his goals   Photograph: Reuters
James Rodriguez lit up the World Cup with his goals Photograph: Reuters

One is what is physically left behind and, in the case of Brazil, plenty has been said about the spending on "Fifa-standard" 60,000-seat stadiums in cities with third division sides, roads to nowhere, corruption and battling economists with their subjective projections trying to prove what a colossal waste or boon the exercise was.

Another is as a footballing bellwether, both in terms of new-found global stars - casual fans now know that it is "Ha-mez" not James, Rodriguez - and tactical trends: that the possession for possession's sake craze was fun while it lasted, now it is just another option, not a tactical imperative.

But most of all, the legacy is a personal one. The quadrennial pace of World Cups dictates moments in our lives in ways club football does not. We can tell we've physically aged from one World Cup to another and that we're at different stages of our lives. And we link them to what the TV - and now, increasingly, the web - brings into our homes.

We will remember where we were when Brazil conceded five goals in less than half-an-hour on the darkest footballing day of their history. Or when defending champions Spain stumbled in their first two outings and made the meekest exit of any World Cup holder. Or, indeed, when Luis Suarez, possessed by whatever demons occasionally take hold of his brain, decided to, once again, bite an opponent.

That, of course, was one of the uglier moments of a competition which, thankfully, offered few examples of nastiness, at least compared to past editions. Apart from the biting, there was the thuggery of the Brazil v Colombia game and a referee who had about as much control of the players as King Lear did of Regan and Goneril.

There was the sycophancy of the Fifa Congress, when the president of the Cuban FA, was moved near to tears in complaining that we could never have age limits because it would mean losing our beloved president, Sepp Blatter.

There was Ray Whelan, Sir Bobby Charlton's former agent, now a big-wig at Match, Fifa's hospitality partner, arrested by Rio police and accused of masterminding a £60m ticket touting ring. Police say he jumped bail and is now a fugitive, his employers say they simply don't know where he is and haven't been able to contact him.

There were German fans with blacked-up faces at the Ghana game and Brazil fans abusing their former countryman Diego Costa. And there was the vulgar site of Ghana players demanding cash bonuses and kissing wads of cash in view of the cameras.

But the fact is that when you put 736 footballers in one country and ask them to play 64 games under the direction of Blatter with billions of fans watching and billions of pounds at stake, stuff will happen. And, all told, we got off lightly. The dark side of the game was contained and, more importantly, identified. Think of it as a teachable moment.

Many of the pre-tournament fears never materialised, and not just the Daily Mail scare stories of rabid dogs, mosquitos the size of crows and machine-gun toting gangs on the streets of Manaus. Yes, it was very hot at some venues, but it didn't seem to affect the play. In fact, by any metric you choose, this was one of the most intense (and high-scoring) World Cups in years.

Equally, the mass protests witnessed at the Confederations Cup a year ago simply never happened. Maybe it was the realisation that the world was watching or the heavy police presence. More likely it was the fact that, from the get-go, they were about issues that go well beyond Fifa. And the fact that demonstrators didn't want to be associated with the violent hoodlums who had hijacked the last few protests.

We saw plenty of close games and teams we didn't think were particularly good go far in the competition, above all Costa Rica. We saw the stars, all told, show up: from Neymar to Messi, they dispensed their highlights. Even Cristiano Ronaldo, despite being unfit, and Suarez, despite his self-inflicted ban, did their part in the short while they were around.

We saw supposed blue-bloods humbled early (England, Italy and, of course, Spain) and supposed minnows (Algeria, Chile, United States) soar. Yet however close so many of the matches were, in very few of them was there a smash-and-grab, where the clearly less deserving side advanced. And that, too is a good thing: we love upsets when they are based on performance, but, deep down we want to see the better sides advance.

Brazil as a nation wakes up for today's final act cognisant of the fact they put on a great show, possibly the best in recent memory. You can see the glass as half-empty and point to the waste or to the fact the grounds were basically filled almost exclusively with the wealthy, whether Brazilian or otherwise.

Or you can take a half-full approach and recognise that when you have a problem with corruption, the bad guys will find ways to steal from public works projects, no matter if it is a stadium, an airport, a hospital or a school.

And that the World Cup has been a two-tier event - rich folks, whether locals or tourists in the ground, everyone else watching on TV - for some time now. Expecting Brazil, a country with the largest income inequality in the world to be different, was always naive.

Take the World Cup for what it is - not an agent of social change, but one of the few shared experiences for fans around the globe - and Brazil 2014 was a resounding success.

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