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.
“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.
On Wednesday, Argentina and the Netherlands will face off in a World Cup semi-final. The two squads are closely matched in skill and intensity. The expectation on Robben’s and van Persie’s shoulders to create chances can be matched only by the pressure that Lionel Messi feels to bring a World Cup home to Argentina.
Both teams staved off threats in the quarterfinals, and both have unfinished business in the World Cup final. The Netherlands look to win after coming agonizingly close to their first World Cup championship four years ago, only to lose on a goal in the 117th minute. Argentina looks to return to glory not felt since Diego Maradona led the Argentine side to a championship in 1986.
While a championship is the ultimate goal, and while the match at hand is the most important, their respective paths to this point must inform the moment.