RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Marcelo looked wide-eyed, stunned when he scored the first goal of the World Cup ... against his own team. Hardly the most auspicious of starts for Brazil. But that blooper just 11 minutes into the tournament was soon forgiven and forgotten as Brazil went on to win that opening game and the 2014 tournament quickly flowered into a roaring success, confounding doom and gloom merchants who predicted Brazil couldn't pull it off without major protests and problems.
The stadiums were (just about) ready in time. Airports held up under the strain of fans and teams crisscrossing South America's largest country. Players came ready to rumble, well prepared for hot conditions. Coaches embraced positive and ambitious tactics.
Costa Rica beating four-time champion Italy and two-time champion Uruguay on a white-knuckle ride to the quarterfinals exemplified how supposedly "small" teams showed no fear of illustrious opponents.
Shockingly in some instances of violent and reckless play, referees showed fewer yellow and red cards per game than at any World Cup since 1986. Their leniency, letting play flow, and team tactics of forward-minded, attacking football and quick counterattacks produced exhilarating and engrossing end-to-end games and what will be a record goals tally if Germany and Argentina in Sunday's final and Brazil against the Netherlands in the third-place match score five more.
Here are five high- and lowlights that helped make the most memorable World Cup in decades:
BRAZIL IMPLODES: Germany skewering Brazil with five goals in 19 minutes in their semifinal was the football equivalent of the scene in "Bambi" when a hunter kills the fawn's mother. Watching such a tragedy befall the five-time champion at its home World Cup became difficult even for some German fans, who later said they just wanted the torturing of Brazil to stop. Second-half substitute Andre Schuerrle had other ideas, scoring two more for a record-breaking 7-1 trauma for the football superpower that gave the world Pele. By the end, the overwhelmingly Brazilian crowd in Belo Horizonte's Mineirao stadium feted German touches of the ball with shouts of "Ole!"
It was surreal, and one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history.
NEYMAR KNEED: One of the greatest injustices of the World Cup was Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo letting play run on as Neymar howled in agony face down in the turf, his third vertebra fractured. Neymar later said he could have been paralyzed had the knee to his lower back from Colombian defender Juan Camilo Zuniga hit two centimeters (less than an inch) closer to his spine. The injury in the quarterfinals put the 22-year-old out of the only World Cup he'll ever play on home soil and robbed the tournament of its Brazilian superstar.
Without its best player, the Brazil team was destroyed by Germany.