Final Thoughts on the World Cup

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And, with that, the world’s largest sporting event comes to a close. It was one filled with goals, excitement, drama, basically anything you could want from one month-long tournament. But the month is over, and it will be four more years until the next one. Before we move onto hoping the USA can make an even deeper run next time around, let’s do the final two games justice and talk about them one last time. With that, we present our thoughts on the third-place game and the final.

First, a quick word on the third place game.

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How the mighty have fallen. Against the Netherlands, Brazil rolled out a lineup featuring many changes from the one that was steamrollered by the Germans, with Hulk and Fred starting the game on the bench. In what was a bit of a continuation of the semifinal, disaster struck early as Thiago Silva brought down Arjen Robben right outside the box. Silva was fortunate to escape without a red card, but the referee still awarded a penalty kick for the offense. After Robin Van Persie nailed his shot, the Dutch controlled the remainder of the game and limited Brazil’s chances. The Netherlands played conservatively following a second goal in the 17th minute and for the most part it was an unspectacular affair. For Brazil, the tournament could not have ended any faster.

Following the injury to Neymar and the yellow card suspension of the captain Silva, the team fell into disarray. Being outscored 10-1 at home in a two game stretch is unheard of from Brazil. Whoever follows in Scolari’s footsteps will need to take a good hard look at the roster and make some significant changes (please, no more Fred). Many of the players’ spots are in jeopardy and deservingly so. The future for Brazil is a mystery. For the Netherlands, the third place finish is a nice way to cap off a great two World Cups. Not many expected the Dutch to repeat the success they had in South Africa. Their performance this year was arguably more impressive considering their slate of opponents. Coach Louis van Gaal is leaving for Manchester United, and for many on the squad, this was the last time representing their nation. While some players may return to Russia in 2018, the Netherlands will consist primarily of new faces. — Nick Barton

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Have you seen Lionel Messi?

He’s a brilliant little Argentine footballer.  No, not the coked-out, tax-evading one. Our guy plays his club football in Spain for the suddenly leaky Barcelona Empire. “La Pulga,” as he might respond to, was last seen – in his true, authentic, other-worldly self – lining up a 25 yard free kick in roughly the 122nd minute for an Argentina side rabid with desperation.

After that set piece sailed high and wide and the last bit of spark was drained out of The Little One, he looked up to the heavens.

It was hard to spot, but I think I caught it. The real Messi – the one who had put hope into the hearts of all 41 million Argentines –disappeared. It was a flash, kind of a blur, and it happened so quickly and amidst such chaos that I couldn’t fault you if you missed it. But after he looked upwards in a confluence of disbelief and “get me out of here” fright, Leo Messi vanished.

Or, really, I should be clearer. Our Leo Messi got out of there.

The one we know, the one with the ball glued to his feet and the perfect play just a moment away, was not around anymore. He was suddenly gone. Our Messi wasn’t there to pick up his runner up medal. Our Leo Messi didn’t have to begrudgingly accept the Golden Ball, not because he wasn’t deserving, but because our Messi wasn’t at the Maracana anymore.

In his place stood a zombie: sulking, silent, stunned. The footballing soul of Leo Messi had been saved by the great goalkeeper in the sky, because the pain that would soon follow would be too much. It would not be fair to subject our Messi to this. So away he went.

A genius can execute moments of brilliance. A savant can make your jaw drop. A wizard will most certainly make you question what you hold so dearly. But in the end, all the voodoo in the world cannot stand up to a well-oiled machine without some help.

Messi did not receive that help today. That was a lacking finish, Gonzalo Higuain. Your composure on the counterattack was a little lacking, Sergio Aguero. And I’m sorry, Rodrigo Palacio, such a critical juncture requires a superior shot.

Have you seen Lionel Messi? Our diminutive dynamo probably just got lost trying to navigate his treasure map for immortality. Poor boy’s had it forever and just can’t seem to decipher it. If you find him, would you mind directing him back on path? And hurry, if you can. Russia 2018 is only about 1400 days away, and I, for one, can’t wait for the return of the greatest footballer to never win the World Cup. Let’s hope he gets another chance to change that title. — Peter Barston

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For all the flak he took for diving, Bastian Schweinsteiger actually played a tremendous box-to-box game of soccer. After being booked in the 29th minute, Schweinsteiger still managed to play effectively into the German attack and shadow Messi as Argentina tried to counter. His defensive importance heightened with the (injury-forced) offensive-minded substitution of André Schürrle into the game in the 32nd minute. The Bayern man was up for the task, displaying his world class combination of size, strength, vision, and marking ability (doesn’t that sound like what we should hope Michael Bradley can become?) and willing what was ultimately the better side to an epic World Cup final victory.

Alejandro Sabella’s half-time speech should’ve made one thing clear: no more crosses lobbed into the box. The Argentine attackers were too small and the German central defense—led by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer—too big to have any shot at getting under a floated ball. The message went either unspoken or unheard, as Argentina came out in the second half continuing the futile approach. Neuer was not losing any balls in the air on Sunday. Period. End of story. As he showed in his bone-crunching collision with Gonzalo Higuain, he was willing to go through a wall to win the ball. Sometimes, brawn trumps all, and Sunday was one of those days.

Messi was fully deserving of the Golden Ball, in my humble opinion. The wonder strike to beat Iran. The ankle breaking and ultimately game-winning goal run against Bosnia. That’s six points right there, in Argentina’s first two group games, that would be reduced to no more than two if not for Lionel Messi. Often in sports, we get too deep into the “best versus most valuable” debate, but in this case, the argument is null. Messi is the best and most valuable player in world soccer, and this tournament only served to confirm that. — Matt Bell

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With a stud like Sami Khedira scratched due to an injury in warmups, most teams would have cause for concern. When Khedira’s replacement Christoph Kramer went off with a head injury (which was incredibly scary to watch and should have FIFA reforming their concussion protocol), it would have been even scarier for those teams. However, Germany is not like one of those teams, with unparalleled depth up and down the roster. They may not have scored until the second period of extra time, but the chances they created were like works of art. The precision with their passes, their ability to trap the ball with ease, and their amazing vision made them unbeatable in this tournament. Argentina, aside from Javier Mascherano and Lionel Messi, simply could not match up with the Germans’ depth. That depth came through in extra time as two substitutes, André Schürrle and Mario Götze, combined to produce the winner.
They are the first European team to ever win a World Cup in South America. It may not have been the prettiest result, but it was the most appropriate. And the scariest part is probably the future. The German development system is quite strong, and many players who made a significant impact on this tournament should be around for Russia 2018. It is not a stretch to say they have the potential to win three straight major tournaments just like Spain before them. This is only the beginning for the Germans. Who knows where it will end? — Nick Barton
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Since the World Cup only happens every four years, it is natural that it serves as a sort of check-in on the state of the game. No, I’m not going to be discussing whether or not this year’s tournament was a referendum on soccer in the United States. That’s a bit of a tired trope reserved for the hottest of #hotsportstakes. But for all except for the biggest diehard fans of the sport, the tournament is the only chance most people get to see certain players. Everybody knows about Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, etc, but this tournament will also be remembered as a welcome party for the likes of James Rodriguez, Paul Pogba, and Mario Götze.
All of this is well and good, but the fleeting nature of the tournament can be fairly cruel as well. Sorry to the injured Angel Di Maria and Jozy Altidore (among others), who I’m sure will be thinking about how much they wish they could have helped their teams for the next four years. It isn’t fair to them, but such is life. Injuries are a part of every major sport, and it just comes with the territory. But in other sports, there’s something to look forward to the following season. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both come to mind as players in the NFL who have missed entire seasons but have been able to bounce back and continue to leave their mark on the league. The World Cup does not afford anyone that luxury. Only the very best players in the world get more than one or two chances to produce an unforgettable moment at that tournament.
For most players, through no fault of their own, there is no chance to shine. It’s sad that Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasn’t able to compete in the tournament and add to the colorful collection of quotes that make him such an interesting character in world soccer. Ibrahimovic, saddled by the fact that he is Swedish (playing Portugal in the European qualifying playoffs also hurt), was also unable to impress in Brazil.
The discussion of the greatest players ever often focuses on what they did for both club and country. If you watched ESPN’s pregame coverage (which on the whole was quite good) of Argentina games, the debate of Diego Maradona versus Lionel Messi came up almost every time. People love to argue about who the best player ever is, but I think that misses the point. Chances to play in the World Cup are extremely limited. Let’s appreciate the people who have devoted their entire lives to the goal of playing in the World Cup for who they are. We’ve got the rest of our lives to talk about the past. Enjoy the present. — Carl Yedor
Images courtesy of The Telegraph, ibtimes.com, The Daily Mail, bdnews24.com, allvoices.com
Follow Carl on Twitter: @CarlYedor61
Follow Matt on Twitter: @mjbell16
Follow Peter on Twitter: @peatebutterston
Follow Nick on Twitter: @TriniNick_James
Follow GSABR on Twitter: @GtownSports
Like GSABR on Facebook
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