A few topics of importance that must be addressed. Turns out I wrote more about the World Cup that I expected, so I’ll split it into two posts.

The World Cup

As tends to happen, the final was a bit frustrating for those of us who enjoy soccer. Another game that went deep into extra time before a brilliant goal saved it from being decided on penalty kicks. It was frustrating because, as the natural conservatism of most coaches/teams took over in the knockout rounds, the beauty of the group-stage of this Cup got sucked away. At least to those who only look at the final score.

This game, though, was a fine one all around. Neither team sat back and waited for mistakes. Both teams pushed forward when they had the chance. Argentina missed two terrific chances to score in regular time. Germany missed one. Both defenses were aggressive and stout rather than playing the “park the bus” defense that has appeared in these games in the past.

But the fact is no one could convert until very late, and for the soccer haters it’s more evidence that “soccer is boring.”

Oh well. To each their own. If you didn’t enjoy this game, I’m not going to try to convince you of why you should have.

Some bullet points scribbled down during the game:
* I love the singing of the national anthems before World Cup games. Especially when the stands are full of fans of each team. The shots of spectators singing along gloriously are fantastic. Argentina may have the greatest national anthem ever, based on what I saw Sunday. Apparently there are no words, but that didn’t stop the fans from jumping up and down and “singing” along with the music. That was a gorgeous site. Also, props to the Argentinian section that had a huge banner of the Pope. That made me laugh out loud.
* I loved ESPN’s Ian Darke saying German coach Joachim Loew looked like a “Bond movie villain.”
* Speaking of Darke, he and analyst Steve McManaman were terrific. They both understand the game well, have all those lovely British phrases that make soccer sound better than when Americans broadcast it, have tremendous rapport, and are often quite funny. McManaman isn’t afraid to call out players, coaches, or referees either. More former players who sit in the broadcast booth need his candor.
* I loved how they both uttered a long “OOOOOHHH!” when Lionel Messi had a wonderful move early in the game. It wasn’t a sound of hype. It was a sound of genuine awe. To the casual fan Messi had the ball in the box and lost it before he could shoot. They saw, though, him making a couple phenomenal moves that few other players in the world could make.
* Props to FIFA for getting these games started quickly. They bring the teams out and play the national anthems before the top of the hour. The players run around for two minutes and the game starts. None of this 8:37 kickoff bullshit you get in the Super Bowl.
* Perhaps it was just how the crowd microphones were placed/processed, but both sets of fans sounded very loud. A far cry from the often sterile crowds that you get at US events like the Super Bowl and Final Four that are played at neutral sites. I’m sure a significant portion of the crowd was given over to corporate sponsors and celebrities in Rio. But it sure sounded like the majority of seats were filled with Germans and Argentinians.
* I laughed out loud at how German Michael Ballack and the Argentinian (I forget his name) who worked in the ESPN studios both used “We” to describe their home teams. We give all the Dukies that ESPN employs in their college basketball coverage a lot of grief. But they never say “We,” when discussing how the Blue Devils can play better in the second half.
* There were 75,000 and change at Sunday’s game. If you watched, you know that the old stadium on the same site held 200,000 people for the 1950 final game. Can you imagine that many people watching a game in one spot? That’s two Rose Bowls. Two Michigan Stadiums. Nearly three Texas Stadiums. That’s nuts.
* Mario Göetze’s1 game winning goal was an astounding piece of work. Collecting a beautiful cross on the run, getting a perfect first touch, and then immediately shooting to past the goalie. That’s how you win a damn World Cup! He’s drinking for free forever.
* Enough with the pictures of crying children when their teams are about to lose. The camera folks (not sure who was in control of them, ESPN or someone else) seemed more concerned with finding distraught Argentinians than showing the action after Göetz’s goal.

Good on Germany for winning their fourth title. Had they lost, their epic, astounding, unreal destruction of Brazil in the semifinals would be a footnote to history. Winning the final confirms that they were the best team over the last month. They beat the three of the four other best teams along the way. Given how Holland played against Argentina in their semifinal, I don’t know that the Dutch would have had the answers for their arch-rivals.

I was neutral for this, not really having any strong rooting interest either way. I was kind of hoping Lionel Messi would play well and take his place among the game’s historical elite. But I enjoyed how the Germans played as a team. That said, pity how people are piling on Messi already. So he’s not in Maradonna and Pele’s class. He’s still one of the three best players in the world now. And based on what he’s done for the past decade, one of the all time greats. It’s possible to say he’s not quite at the top without ripping the dude apart.

I remember thinking, when the Germans won their last cup in 1990, that with reunification coming, Germany would turn into an unstoppable soccer force for decades to come. They won the 1996 European title, but had consistently failed in the semifinals in tournament-after-tournament since. They were regularly very good, but never great. It’s taken longer than I thought, but with a vibrant, diverse young crop of players, might Germany be on the verge of becoming the world soccer power? I guess we’ll find out in two years when the next European championships roll around, and then two years later when the World Cup goes to Russia.

Finally, looking back on my pre-tournament predictions, I was right about 50% at each stage. I picked 9 of the Round of 16 teams correctly. Then picked half of the next stages correctly; four of eight quarterfinalists, two of the semifinalists, and one final participant. Alas, I had Argentina beating Brazil 3-1.

  1. I’ve seen it spelled Göetze and Götze across different sites. Is it really that hard?