Best goal: Van Bronckhorst’s, no question. Where the ball ended up was the only place it could have gone while still eluding the keeper. About as close to a perfect strike as I’ve ever seen. Watch him repeat it right-footed.
Best player: David Villa. Forlan gets honorable mention, of course, but Villa somehow looks dangerous every time he gets the ball. Yes, he gets great service from the Spanish midfield, but with Torres slumping, he’s had to do it without a threatening attacking partner.
Best goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer. Not much he could do about Puyol’s header, and he looked totally in command throughout the tournament. Plus his distribution was superb.
Most uneven performance: Germany. In three of their games—against Australia, England, and Argentina—they looked like one of the best teams ever to take the field. In the three others—against Serbia, Ghana, and Spain—they looked pretty ordinary.
Most disappointing team: Ivory Coast. OK, Drogba wasn’t fully fit. But before the tournament, everyone was talking about how this wasn’t a one-man team, and how awesome and exciting and creative and African they were going to be. That orange kit added to the mystique. And they never came close to living up to it.
Best Fans: The Dutch. They were everywhere, always friendly, and often dressed in silly costumes that had little apparent connection to football or to Holland. And a bit of ambush marketing never hurt anyone.
Most effective but annoying tactical innovation: Two holding midfielders. Holland, Germany, and, to some extent, Brazil all did it, and plenty of others used variations of it. Not that these teams didn’t play some attractive football, but it sure can slow down the other team’s buildup play. Can you imagine, say, Carlos Alberto’s goal in the 1970 World Cup Final being scored against a team that used that formation? Pele would have been closed down the second he got the ball.
Most bizarre refereeing decision: The disallowals of the U.S. “winner” against Slovakia, and of Lampard’s “goal” against Germany, tie for a close second. But even weirder was waving off Xabi Alonso’s penalty against Paraguay for very borderline infringement of the penalty area, minutes after several players had been far more blatantly guilty of the same thing on Paraguay’s own missed penalty. Consistency should really be the minimum we expect of a World Cup referee.
Greatest sensitivity to the possibility, however slight, that he might be being called gay: Maradona.
Worst member of ESPN’s commentary team: John Harkes. Even more annoying than his insight-free observations was his inability to speak in grammatical English.
Best idea by the rulers of a country that doesn’t let its people leave to ensure they still had fans at the World Cup: North Korea hiring Chinese actors to fill in.
Coach who most resembles a European avant-garde film director: Joachim Loew