World Cup Expectations Rankings: Brazil's over- and underachievers
Teams come to the World Cup with their own expectations. For some, just being there is enough, reaching the last 16 an almost impossible dream. For others, so exalted were their ambitions that even a quarterfinal feels like a disappointment. This is an attempt to grade teams according to how they did against their own expectations, looking both at results and at how well they played:
Los Ticos were supposed to be the makeweights in a horribly tough group, having failed to win away from home in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, but they played with great resilience and intelligence to beat Uruguay and Italy, before reaching the quarterfinal with a penalty shootout win over Greece. Costa Rica went home unbeaten and having significantly enhanced its reputation.
Few expected much from Louis van Gaal's young team, particularly after the loss of Kevin Strootman to injury, but the coach's tactical acumen and Arjen Robben's pace took it to a semifinal. And, of course, it was the Dutch who landed the crushing first blow on Spain, obliterating any sense of the defending champion's invincibility.
There were serious doubts about Jose Pekerman's side after Radamel Falcao ruptured knee ligaments, but James Rodriguez inspired Los Cafeteros to become arguably the most watchable side at the World Cup. But for Brazil and some soft refereeing in the quarterfinals, Colombia could have easily have gone further.
What if Mauricio Pinilla's last-minute shot against Brazil had gone in rather than hitting the crossbar? What if it hadn't been Brazil - again - in the last 16? Chile played its familiar high-tempo pressing game, saw off Australia and Spain, but yet again lost against the continent's giants. It could hardly have pushed the hosts any more, though.
The transformation under Vahid Halilhodzic has been remarkable. Gone was the stodgy football of recent years and in its place came a fluency and creative flair that recalled the glory days of the 1980s. The victory over South Korea in the group stage was stunning, and with greater precision in the final third, it might have ousted Germany in the last 16.
Widely dismissed as the weakest of the European qualifiers, Fernando Santos's side played with typical vigor and defensive resolve and, when it needed it, found the late winner against Ivory Coast to reach the last 16. Holding out with 10 men against Japan showed its character and only a PK shootout loss to Costa Rica denied it a quarterfinal berth.
Expectations for France fluctuated wildly in the build-up to the tournament. It was dreadful for most of qualifying and in the first leg of the qualifying playoff against Ukraine, then superb in the second. Despite not having the injured Franck Ribery available and with Karim Benzema excelling, Les Bleus were superb in the group stage, squeezed by Nigeria, but then seemed to lack any kind of spark in the quarterfinal defeat to Germany.
Getting through a tough group was some achievement and there was a sense of heroism in the eventual defeat to Belgium. The USA looked like a limited side, terrifically fit but lacking true quality. Even in its one win, against Ghana, it was outplayed for long periods, although it deserved more than a draw against Portugal.
The African champions lacked the creative hub Sunday Mba might have provided but they were dogged and well-organized and with more luck and better refereeing might easily have overcome France in the last 16. Essentially played to form.
Given how widely tipped Belgium was as a potential winner and the fact it was seeded, its performances were deeply underwhelming. It reached a quarterfinal without ever catching fire, although the youth of its squad means there is clear scope for improvement in the coming years.
Given it was a seeded team in the December draw, a last-16 exit feels like something of a disappointment, and the defending against France was shambolic, but the Swiss at least had their last-minute winner against Ecuador and Xherdan Shaqiri's hat trick against Honduras to celebrate.
A strange tournament, as defeat to Costa Rica was salvaged by wins over England and Italy, but the Luis Suarez bite and the subsequent refusal to accept responsibility were shameful. Reaching the last 16 was a realistic goal for the reigning South American champion, but the damage to its reputation was severe.
Who knows what might have been but for the last-minute winner conceded against Switzerland? Few had given the Ecuadorians much hope, but they were a fraction from reaching the second phase like the five other fellow South American sides.
It all started so positively. Croatia was unlucky against Brazil and then hammered Cameroon before losing to Mexico. It wasn't disastrous by any means, but a gifted side should have made it through the group.
Carlos Queiroz's side defended with commendable discipline against both Nigeria and Argentina, and, although it couldn't finish the job against Bosnia, it at least went home with pride.
The golden generation came to an end with something of a whimper. There were flashes of quality, but they were too few and far between to carry the Elephants through the group stage for the first time in their history. A last-gasp conceded penalty to Greece ensured another group elimination.
The hope had been that an attacking side could take advantage of a relatively kind group and reach the last 16, but after a hard-fought defeat to Argentina, it was undone by mystifying tactical decisions agains Nigeria.
Although the dispute over bonuses was unedifying, Ghana played far better than results might suggest, and it can wonder what might have happened if Jordan Ayew had passed to Asamoah Gyan rather than taking on a speculative shot himself with the score at 2-1 against Germany.
Three defeats, but nobody thought this was a great Australia side, and there were at least plucky displays against Chile, and, particularly, the Netherlands. They'll always have Tim Cahill's volley.
From start to exit, England's World Cup lasted a little under six days. but, while results were dire, there was a sense that the performances against Italy and Uruguay might on another day have brought a different result.
Its struggles to break down a Belgium side reduced to 10 men spoke of a team bereft of confidence, bereft of creativity, bereft of a plan. Hammered by Algeria.
A poor qualifying campaign translated into an awful tournament, despite boasting Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal never recovered from its first-half collapse against Germany, and, although it beat Ghana, it was second-best in drawing with the USA.
It came with few expectations and left having failed to take a point and with a reputation for anachronistic aggression.
Once again a Fabio Capello side qualified well, but stuttered in the tournament itself. An individual error from Igor Akinfeev, a late goal from Belgium's Divock Origi and a laser pen in Akinfeev's eyes meant there was a specific excuse in each game, but its football was turgid throughout.
Japanese football is on the rise. More and more Japanese players are establishing themselves in he Champions League and the national team continues to dominate the Asian game. The draw was relatively kind, but the Blue Samurai never performed.
When it beat England, Italy seemed to have done the hard part, but the effort in Manaus seemed to exhaust the 2012 European Championship finalists. Dismal against Costa Rica, sluggish against Uruguay, out in three games for a second straight World Cup.
Nobody knew quite what to expect from Cameroon, who have had their problems but seemed on the rise under Volker Finke. What we got were disputes over bonuses, allegations of match-fixing, shambolic performances and three defeats.
It arrived as reigning world and two-time European champions, but a generation that had grown stale together was ripped apart by the Netherlands and then well-beaten by Chile. The favorite was ousted after just two matches, joining Australia as first teams to be eliminated.