World Cup 2014 Review

With some help of a friend here what i can say here:

Disclaimer: You can probably discern from the title my partiality in this final, and yes, I’m a die-hard Argentina fan, and my heart was broken thrice today, first by the loss, then when the whole squad stood numbly in the middle of the Maracana, and yet again when Leo Messi walked past the World Cup when he received his award. I think German win was justified, Götze’s goal was magnificent, and Argentina had more than a few wasted opportunities that did not play out in their favor.

Two things continue to sting afterwards: 1) Media’s hurried judgment of Messi, 2) Snide remarks about Argentina being a one-man team.

I’ll address the second issue first. Every team in the World Cup has its significantly stronger and certain less prominent players. It so happens that the captain, the superstar and the play-maker of the Argentine team is one of the most famous names of footballing history. This does not make Argentina a one-man squad. (Wanna know what a real one-man squad is? Brazil. But even that I have my reservations and am open to discussion.) There are other very prominent players in the squad as well, such as Mascherano, with whom the media makes frequent comparisons to Messi, Lavezzi, who was sent off after the first half for a more offensive front, and di Maria, whose injury impeded him from helping La Albiceleste claim victory in the Maracana today. Argentina’s defense players are also very strong- Rojo, Zabaleta, Demichelis etc. have not conceded at all in the knockout rounds until Götze’s admittedly brilliant goal. However, they were constantly outshone in publicity by the opponents’ attacking players, such as the flying Dutchmen. Of course they are quieter and less commendable players on the Argentine team as well, such as the unfit Sergio Agüero, Gago and latecomer Palaccio), yet still together they make a convincing squad, and their growth in the matches in the knock-out phase was phenomenal, given they have hardly played together. On the other hand, 7 players of Germany’s starting lineup play together in Bayern, and the rare few who don’t (e.g. Klose, Özil, Khedira), they have been playing together in the national team long enough to have developed a full sense of how each other played. Even with all these existing assets, Germany attacked almost exclusively through the left, from Lahm, down to Müller or other forwards. And Höwedes? We were hardly aware of his presence on the field. This is not to attack the German machine, who’s put together a great game, but to point out that Argentina has come through as much a team as the nationalmannschaft has. Argentina was most frequently criticized for being a weak team and given a short prognosis in the competition, but this censure no longer stands as the team proceeded into the knock-out round, as evident in the match against Belgium.

In their defense, I’d again argue the short time they’ve played together as a team, or in the same clubs (off the top of my head there’s only Demichelis, Zabaleta and Agüero play together in ManCity and the former two worked well together; while Messi and Mascherano are teammates in Barça). Most players are quite old for the World Cup, standing at an average of just under 29 years, making them the oldest team in this tournament. (Well, age isn’t that much of a hindrance when you consider Lavezzi at 29 zoomed past the flying Dutchmen and the German machine a few times, and friggin Arjen Robben, but for the purpose of the argument, I’d say the *average* age does impact the team.)

Then, injuries have been haunting La Albiceleste all tournament long: first the loss of di Maria, which made Mascherano’s job extra painful in midfield and created an absence of passes and assists to Messi. Then there is Agüero who made critics all the more hopeful of Argentine advancement when he came out halfway through Argentina’s formidable and exhausting match against Oranje, and he too was injured early on in the tournament and has been in an unfit condition since. Unfortunately, attacking players need more time to warm up in a competition and there never is enough time in intense competitions as THIS ONE. Yet his challenges to Bastian Schweinsteiger today were evident and he ought to be commended for his effort. Had di Maria and Agüero been fit, the whole game would’ve been different altogether. (The same argument can be made for the German team with the absence of Khedira, but (bypassing Kramer’s little unfortunate incident) Schürrle proved a quality sub.

Of course there is the last reason, which is interconnected with the last one and is the plain fact that Alex Sabella lacked players with only four to five being rotated. The starting 11, I maintain, is a very strong team.

 Now moving on to the 1st issue and one more easily dealt with: Messi is still electrifying, come on. Media has been ever critical of him since Day One when Sabella appointed him captain, and to this day his captaincy is still challenged. Come on, even Mascherano himself lauded Messi’s captaincy. And his commendation was not unfounded, Messi played the pivotal role of a playmaker for all the group matches and the early phase of the knock-outs. But there are reasons his presence ceased slightly in the next match against the Dutch, and arguably, today. The two opponents have played a VERY close game trapping Messi. Each team delegated one player exclusively to mark Messi, and if I were him, I’d put a restraining order on de Jong and Boateng. Those guys only had one job. And almost every time Messi touched the ball, two to three defense players of the opposition would fly to his sides quite simply to contain him. Of course, no fault is to be found in those teams, but then no blame should be placed on Messi either. It is easy to fall into the logical fallacy that he should’ve expected such intense trapping given his experience in Barça. But 1) there isn’t the regular Neymar, or the di Maria or the fit Sergio Agüero in this case to distract his markers, 2) Messi has done a fantastic job pushing the ball as far in as possible already and 3) he’s learnt from the match against the Dutch and today he was electrifying, disregarding his missed opening. He even ran today, against his natural style of play. No player has received so much challenge, but then again, it is become he has consistently overcome these challenges that he is today hailed as the world’s best player.

Second reason for his decreased leadership is fatigue. He’s the captain and the heart and soul of the team, he simply cannot be rotated. He has played in every match, withstanding the dauntingly sized Europeans who tried to contain him each match since Belgium. As his own father said, “His legs look like they weighted 100 kilos.” (not verbatim)

Last reason is the immense pressure placed on his shoulders by his nation and by the world. Critics observed with an ever-watchful eye, eager to pick out all the minute errors he committed (not the one today) and keen to denounce him from the footballing pantheon. What a headline it would be, the King of Football dethroned. I think he has managed that pressure extremely well, will you please just re-watch  his first penalty kick against Oranje? It’s not easy, not even among the world’s best players, to keep his head cool under 1 billion pairs of critical eyes. He’s fallen ever-so-slightly from grace today, but for the majority of the match and the tournament he’s been amazingly composed. It’s the first time Messi has been so closely scrutinized, he has never gone so far in the World Cup before, and with so much pride, fame and reputation trailing behind him too. Give this man some credit, he’s done incredibly well pressuring the enemy and at the same time encouraging his teammates. He deserved to be happy about his Best Player Award and his place among the Football Gods of compatriot Maradona and Pele, but there’s something he can take home with him and lament over, before he strikes back stronger than ever in Russia 2018. He will only be 31 going to 32, and the Flying Dutchmen have proven that 30ish might be the new pinnacle of a footballer’s career.

When that time comes, the world will surely rejoice in his heroism and commend his “former” performance in Rio, forgetting all past wrongs and hailing a new king.

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