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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.