Brazil are still not the finished article, Nigeria have plenty to be happy about and Spain's aura has all but gone
Yes, they beat Spain 3-0 and, yes, they improved as the tournament went on but this Brazil side still have major flaws. The forward surges of Marcelo and Dani Alves can leave them dreadfully exposed at the back, particularly when both go at the same time. It's true that Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho became increasingly adept at covering for them as the tournament progressed, and that relationship should improveover the next 12 months, but even so, Brazil again and again were saved by David Luiz, who popped up to resolve crises with the implausible regularity of an Agatha Christie detective.
Firefighting is all well and good, and David Luiz excellent at it, but it would be far better if the fires weren't lit in the first place. Even in the final, although the scoreline looked convincing, Júlio César made two fine saves, David Luiz made a miraculous clearance off the line and Spain missed a penalty – all four chances deriving from their forwards getting behind the full-backs. The situation isn't helped by wide forwards in Neymar and Hulk who do next to nothing in the way of defensive work, often leaving the flanks utterly exposed.
Japanese football seems to be stuck in a rut. They've been consistently the best side in Asia for 15 years or so – and again have qualified for the World Cup with ease – but yet again, against the best sides from other continents, they came up short. Again, they go home from a tournament being praised for the technical accomplishment and crispness of their play without much – in this case anything – to show for it.
The Brazil game was essentially over once Neymar had scored a brilliant goal after three minutes, they panicked in a lead against Italy and then were outsmarted by Mexico. The lack of a top-class centre-forward remains a major problem and, sacrilegious as it may be to say it, it could be that Yasuhito Endo, who completed 151 passes in three games, more than any other player eliminated in the group stage, is too cautious is his use of the ball.
It doesn't matter who the Nigeria manager is, or what his team achieve, the critics are always lining up, just waiting for an opportunity to snipe. A tournament in which they went out in the group stage, lost two games and beat only Tahiti, has provided plenty of ammunition, but there was plenty to be positive about.
Nigeria had the better of the first halves against Uruguay and Spain, but ended up undone by poor finishing. Brown Ideye had a disappointing tournament which compounded the absence of Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike with injury. The general 4-2-3-1 shape looked just as impressive as it had at the Cup of Nations earlier in the year, while Mikel John Obi, revelling in his freer role, offered a reminder that when he made his international debut in 2006 he was considered an attacking midfielder.
The full-backs – again – are a concern, but essentially Nigeria did rather better than results suggested.
At the World Cup and Euro 2012, Vicente del Bosque spoke incessantly about "control": keep the ball, deny the opposition possession and a clean sheet is all but guaranteed. Opponents, terrified by the red swirl (and perhaps also by the achievements of Barcelona), ended up collaborating, sitting deep and allowing Spain to pass among themselves, almost as though prepared to suffer an attritional 1-0 defeat rather than risk humiliation.
Nigeria and Italy, though, perhaps encouraged by what had happened to Barcelona and Real Madrid in last season's Champions League semi-finals, showed what could be done by attacking Spain. In those games, poor finishing and good fortune let Spain off the hook; in the final they would not be so lucky.
Their aura has gone and there was a clear sense they have forgotten how to defend. The return of Xabi Alonso may restore stability, but it's not as though Sergio Busquets is unused to playing with Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. Again, the full-backs were the major issue: Jordi Alba has the pace and the technique to add depth (the "profundidad" Del Bosque keeps talking about) to attacks, but the cover for him is not yet working, while the hesitancy on the ball of Alvaro Arbeloa, although he provides a useful defensive counterbalance to Alba, was badly exposed.
Five games, four different formations. There is no coach and no team in world football so flexible as Oscar Washington Tabárez and Uruguay.
Like so many others, Uruguay were worrying open at times in wide areas (the trend of attacking full-backs seemingly leaving almost every team vulnerable to counters on the flank) and that they kept only one clean sheet in five games – and that against Tahiti – is a concern for a team that pride themselves on their resilience, but far more important was the sense that some of the devil has returned.
Uruguay have struggled in World Cup qualifying – although they have a game in hand, they trail fourth-placed Chile by five points and face a scrap with Venezuela for fifth place and a play-off against Uzbekistan or Jordan – but as they did at the last World Cup and at the Copa América, in a tournament environment they thrive, testament both to the ferocious team spirit Tabárez has instilled and to what he can do tactically when he has a squad together for a protracted period.