The lasting legacy of Brazil 2014
As Germany stand on the brink of finishing a story that is 12 years in the making, defender Benedikt Hoewedes ruminated on how there could yet be a plot hole, how there could yet be a twist.
"We want that title so badly," the defender said after his team's 7-1 semifinal win. "If we lose, nobody will talk about our game against Brazil anymore."
That may be true for the Germans, but would not be the case for the hosts or anyone else. In fact, it would only deepen the dimensions of Brazil's sensational defeat, and create an even more grandiose story. Argentina would win a World Cup at the Maracana, Lionel Messi would replicate Diego Maradona and potentially surpass him.
A remarkable tournament would resonate even more; its impact would further reverberate through history.
That is the more profound value of Brazil 2014, and the deeper issue when discussing a tournament's lasting legacy.
For all the justifiable debate about the quality of the football and the fixtures, as well as the more fruitless calculation and forecasting of goals-per-game ratios, some of that is to slightly miss the point.
With the latter figures, certainly, it sometimes seems like we're approaching the point like in the movie "Dead Poets Society" when Robin Williams rips up the graph that supposedly measures the "perfection" of a sonnet. That type of thing is not what touches people about art, and raw numbers are not what foster a tournament's legacy.
Even genuinely brilliant football, meanwhile, tends to require something else to brandish it onto history. It needs storylines and a sense of achievement to provide a greater point, it requires crescendo and drama to make it more epic.
The individual memories are ultimately what really last about a tournament, and they tend to be more specific and visceral than just vaguely recalling the general standard. In that regard, this World Cup has offered plenty, arguably more than any tournament in decades.
For comparison, consider the case of Euro 2008. In terms of pure technical excellence, it was probably the highest level of any competition since Euro 2000. That is difficult to dispute. Now, however, try and recall the major moments. There was obviously Spain beginning an era. There was Russia's extra time victory against the Netherlands, as well as the dynamism of the early Dutch displays. There were also repeated brilliant comebacks from Turkey but... beyond that, there wasn't much else that comes bouncing back into the memory.
By contrast, the standard of play in Italia '90 is widely thought to have been poor, but its isolated moments were anything but. There was Maradona in Naples, his pass against Brazil, Paul Gascoigne's tears, Cameroon's rise and Roger Milla's dance. Top scorer Toto Schillaci provided another great individual story, before being frustrated by the defiant Sergio Goycochea in the semifinal. Italy would go no further in that World Cup, but the list goes on.
For a World Cup played at a generally disappointing level, it set an impressive legacy. It is certainly much more memorable than Euro 2008.
This World Cup, arguably, far surpasses it. It had every possible kind of epic storyline, and every one of those storylines had a defining moment or crescendo that will more deeply create its legend.
To begin, you only have to lay out the broad elements. There was the starkest fall of one of the greatest teams, the moments of genius from one of the great players, the rise of a new star and potentially the rise of a new force. There has also been one great underdog story, so many controversies that verged on hysteria, and potentially the most stunning result in football history.
That is quite a catalogue, and they run right through this World Cup. The specific details make it all the more special. So many of them would make any lift of football's greatest moments.
Right from the very beginning, there was the stark fall of one of the greatest teams in history with the remarkable nature of Spain's 5-1 rout at the feet of a fresh Dutch team only widening the scale of it. If that is the event that will have the most profound impact on football history, there is still possibly nothing that will compare to the profound dimensions of Brazil's 7-1 defeat to Germany. They were supposed to eventually make it to the Maracana to banish 64 years of ghosts. They never got that far, and instead suffered a fate far more haunting than 1950.
Given the context, given the circumstances, given the politics, given the pattern of the game and given the history, it may well be the most stunning football result -- if not event -- of all time. The manner of Brazil's collapse almost felt like the opposite but equal reaction to all the hysterical energy built up over Neymar's injury. That was only the second great controversy of the tournament, after Luis Suarez's bite. The latter was a moment to compare to Toni Schumacher's 1982 battering of Patrick Battiston, but the real pity for both players is that they had previously provided such moments of genius and genuine courage. Neymar's equaliser against Croatia amid the tension of the opening raised a stadium. Suarez's match-winner against England was a supreme combination of quality and character, in the tightest of margins.
At the least, Messi provided so many moments that will accompany any future celebration of his career, from the stoppage-time show-stopper against Iran to the exquisite elegance of the pass against Belgium. While he may be rising to his greatest moment, his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo never got to create a World Cup legacy. It is truly sad that does not reflect his talent, but it does offer a narrative depth. At the least, a new star rose in James Rodriguez, with the purity of his performances and the astounding quality of his goals also helping Colombia to cleanse their football souls.
Twenty years after the disappointment of 1994 and the tragedy of Andres Escobar, Colombia enjoyed their best ever World Cup, while also becoming this tournament's exciting equivalent of Bulgaria 1994 or Croatia 1998.
If Colombia were some way heralded beforehand, no one expected Costa Rica to defy modern football realities in reaching the quarterfinals. Along the way to that grander underdog story, they provided some genuine upsets.
Nigeria and Algeria, meanwhile, overturned history in another ways. Stephen Keshi became the first African coach to reach the second round, with the Algerians also getting there ensuring the continent enjoyed its best ever World Cup with two sides in the last 16. And yet, the fact that three different federations got involved in disputes with their teams over finances contradictorily make it one of Africa's worst World Cups. Cameroon suffered possibly the worst ever campaign by a team.
Amid all of that, then, there were so many epic matches that ebbed and flowed themselves and provided a microcosm of the tournament itself. Brazil-Chile was perhaps the best of them, but even so many games that didn't fire in the same way provided incredibly unpredictable endings that went right to the wire. There was Greece against Ivory Coast, Switzerland against Ecuador and Angel di Maria against Switzerland.
All of that remains so remarkable. The most astounding aspect is that it could even better: Germany will confirm the rise of a superpower or Messi will enjoy a coronation.
Sure, it may not be the greatest World Cup, but it has more than had the greatest storylines.
Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.