The “team” part of “team sports”

Sometimes it seems like we forget the “team” part of “team sports.” Sure, we acknowledge that a combination of talents leads to a better result, but we still focus on that talent aspect. How the players come together is vital to any team’s success, as well as its dynamic, and having clearly defined roles is a big part of that.

Let’s use some relatively recent examples of championship matchups to explore the importance of roles within a team.

NBA Finals

The Spurs trumped the Big Three of the Heat by having more players step up and fulfill their roles.

LeBron put up an average of nearly 30 points while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each averaged double digits, but Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen — role players key to the Heat’s success, as Andersen proved in the 2013 playoffs — contributed low totals. A large bulk of the weight landed on LeBron’s shoulders as Wade underperformed and five Spurs averaged double digits. San Antonio outrebounded, outshot, and outdefended Miami by strides.

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FIFA’s dysfunction evidenced in the World Cup

FIFA’s corruption becomes immediately obvious when viewing how many countries were passed over as potential hosts of the 2022 World Cup in favor of Qatar, where the average temperature in June and July is over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

I’m not saying Qatar can’t push enough money forward to create a decent World Cup, but there were some other obvious contenders that were snubbed — countries where soccer is already huge, or on the rise. (The New York Times has an interesting feature on Qatar’s focused effort to promote soccer and win the bid. Some good things, but FIFA could have waited another round to get a clearer picture of Qatar’s progress.)

But that sort of corruption far from FIFA’s only problem. This World Cup gave plenty of reminders of the organization’s dysfunction.

Brazil-Netherlands

Saturday’s third-place game gave the most recent example of FIFA inconsistency. Fortunately, it was not enough to affect the outcome of the match.

In just the second minute, Thiago Silva — just back after his disqualification from the semifinal due to two yellow cards — pulled Arjen Robben to the ground as he entered the box. Under almost any circumstances, that calls for a send-off, whether or not the foul happened in the penalty box.

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Germany marches to World Cup victory

Many critics believed at the start of the 2o14 World Cup that Spain would continue its bid for trophies after winning the past two UEFA European Championships and the 2010 World Cup. A number of others thought that Germany could compete with and even potentially beat out the Spaniards for this year’s World Cup.

I believed that Germany could win its first national trophy since the 1990 World Cup. While Spain could not escape the group stage, falling to the Netherlands and Chile in turn, Germany finally broke out of the slump of second and third place finishes at the past three World Cups to reclaim the title of World Champions, defeating Argentina 1-0 yesterday in extra time.

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Lionel Messi, Maradona’s successor

“God” and “the Flea”

In Argentina, two characters tower above soccer lore: “God” and “the Flea.”

“The Flea” refers to Lionel Messi, so called because he has a growth hormone deficiency that once caused him to be able to sit on benches and have his legs not touch the ground. Messi is the good boy who worked hard and put the hours in to become one of the finest players the game of soccer has ever seen.

On the other side is “God.” This is Diego Maradona, the bad boy super-star who led Argentina to back to back World Cup finals in 1986 and 1990, and winning the first one, all while addicted to cocaine. Along the path to winning Argentina’s second championship (the first came eight years earlier, in 1978) Maradona scored five goals. Of those five goals, four came in the knockout rounds, including the infamous “Hand of God”  goal, and “the Goal of the Century” in the quarterfinal against England. Despite his shortcomings, he is universally adored in Argentina.

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World Cup 2014 highlights

As we prepare for the final weekend of the World Cup with a consolation final Saturday (semifinal losers Brazil and the Netherlands) and the main event between Germany and Argentina on Sunday, let’s recap with a few of the highlights of this tournament.

Germany’s complete rout of Brazil

The most one-sided affair in a World Cup semifinal, and one of the most impressive routs in World Cup history, headlines this Cup so far. The Internet went crazy to the tune of 35.6 million tweets, and rightly so, as Germany sealed the match early with four goals in six minutes (part of five goals in the first 29 minutes). Miroslav Klose scored his record-breaking 16th World Cup goal. A late Brazil goal on a counter after Germany almost scored its eighth goal prevented the host country from the additional humiliation of a shutout.

Neymar’s injury may have factored into this match, but I can’t see how it would have substantially changed the result. The Brazilian defense unhinged as Germany played exceptionally well, picking their spots and hitting them time after time. They created space and used it, and the scoreline, 7-1, was a completely accurate picture of the match. The absence of Thiago Silva likely had more to do with the extreme number of goals, but one player, even one who seems to break up passes as a matter of course, can rarely change the atmosphere that substantially. (Unless his name is Tim Howard. But I’ll get to that later.)

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