July 13, 2014

It was a tournament for the ages. 11 stray observations, in no particular order.

1: While the political and economic controversies surrounding this tournament were driven by very real concerns, the tournament itself was marvelous. I'm not one who can easily compartmentalize when it comes to corruption and moral issues in sport, and I have been constantly aware of the protests against the Cup, which was in many eyes an $11B debacle. Acknowledging that, the actual competition had everything - drama, brilliant play, agony, ecstasy, epic meltdowns, upsets and more. It also had, sadly, diving, cannibalism and enough horrific officiating to last us the rest of the century. Two of those things will likely be subjects for future posts.

2: The best team won. Four years ago I predicted Germany over Ghana in the 2014 final. I was half right, anyway. This German side has amazing talent, depth, discipline, technical brilliance, speed, a will of steel, and let's remember that they were playing without their best striker.

3: The final was a fantastic match, worthy of a tournament of this quality. Argentina was, in the estimations of most (including me), overmatched. They had brilliant attacking in Messi, Higuain, Aguero, di Maria and Lavezzi, but any team with Martin DiMichaelis in the back is going to be lucky to hold a Belfast pub league side to five goals. That they were able to marshal such an unflinching defensive effort was truly remarkable, and had they capitalized on their opportunities they may well have won it all in regulation time.

4: Speaking of which, Gonzalo Higuain is going to be having nightmares of that miss for the rest of his life. You know the one I'm talking about. Ditto Rodrigo Palacio.

5: Okay, okay, maybe I won't wait for a future post. Jesus H. Donaghy, the reffing was terrible. I mean, it was no worse than the rest of the tournament, but Bastian Schweinsteiger got a card when I'm not sure there was even a foul. Just a dive from Lavezzi. A couple minutes later, another dive by Lavezzi. Later on, German left back Benedikt Höwedes got a yellow card for a foul that could easily have been a straight red. And then, on that collision between Higuain and Manuel Neuer at the edge of the box, somehow the ref saw a foul on the Argentine. I watched the replay from multiple angles and what I saw was a straight red card on Neuer for a flying knee to the side of the head. Also, maybe - not sure on this - but maybe a hardball for handling the ball outside the box. I was pulling for Germany, but that doesn't make me blind or stupid. They were damned lucky on that play.

6: Re: diving. The tournament was thick with simulation, starting with Fred's game-changing fainting spell in the box in the opening match. Arjen Robben was the second coming of Greg Louganis out there, but in the end, only one card was issued for diving in the entire tournament: yesterday, in the consolation match, Brazil's Oscar was taken down in the box for a clear penalty, but the ref brandished the yellow at him. Understand, there was so much obvious contact there that the defender had to come off the field because he injured himself hacking Oscar. Next Cup they should make the refs wear big shoes and bright red noses, just to properly set everyone's expectations.

7: I ain't quite done speaking my mind yet. The tournament saw card after card for ghost fouls while periodic instances of attempted murder went unsanctioned. Go ask Neymar, who sustained a broken motherfucking vertebra from a flying knee to the back. The ref?


7: Some interesting factoids.

  • The winning goal was scored by Mario Götze off a pass from Andre Schürrle. Both were subs, and they're also the first two players to appear for Germany who were born post-reunification. That probably means something, although I'm not sure what just yet.
  • Germany wins their fourth Copa, tying them with Italy. Only Brazil has more, with five.
  • Germany became the first European squad to win a Cup in South America.

8: Did I say Brazil? Yow. Yeah, talk about purely and simply not being good enough. The team has attempted to adjust to a more rigid global style in recent years, and it isn't really working. Neymar was wonderful, and is truly in the mode of past generations of stylish Brazilian footballers. But when Fred and Jo are your strikers, you're going to hit, full speed and lips first, a glass ceiling. Much soul searching is going to be required. It will be interesting to see what kinds of conclusions the federation reaches.

9: The leading cause of nose-picking? Being in the crowd at a televised sporting event and having the camera pointed at you.

10: FIFA needs killing. No real new data here. Just saying. I'm already itching to get back to the Qatar scandal, honestly.

11: Lionel Messi named player of the tournament. Probably justified, because without him Argentina gets nowhere near the final. A lot is going to be made of his legacy if he doesn't win the World Cup - shadow of Maradona and all that - but let's understand a couple things. First, take away the moment that defines Maradona's legacy - the "Hand of God" - and he isn't Maradona, either. Second, Messi is never going to accomplish at the national level what he has at the club level, for two simple reasons: Xavi and Iniesta aren't Argentinian. I'm taking nothing away from Leo, who's just fucking incredible. But it isn't fair to beat him up because his teammates on the national side aren't as good as his teammates at Barca.

Stay tuned. I have more post-tournament thoughts percolating....

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