Europe's curse ends; Messi judged too harshly already

jdill@bradenton.comJuly 15, 2014 

Brazil Soccer WCup Germany Argentina

Argentina's Lionel Messi gestures during extra time of the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Germany won 1-0.

HASSAN AMMAR — AP

The hex is gone.

Germany's victory in Sunday's final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup over Argentina lifted a curse that has plagued European sides since the tournament began in 1930.

No European country has won the tournament crossing the Atlantic to North or South America.

But the triumph did something else.

It erased past failures for many of the German players that have squandered deep tournament runs at the international level.

It also gave Germany its first World Cup title since the country was reunified after it was divided following World War II.

But on the pitch, we witnessed the complete team winning the World Cup this year. It capped a remarkable tournament, where ratings surged around the world -- including domestically here in America -- and the 'Beautiful Game' flourished in the soccer-religious hotbed of Brazil.

Prior to the final, the match was being billed as Messi versus the Mannschaft.

The former refers to arguably the best player in the world, Argentina's Lionel Messi.

The latter refers to Germany's nickname, die Mannschaft, that simply means, "the team."

And the emphasis needs to be on the team part, because this is the ultimate team game.

Messi is already being criticized for not bringing home the World Cup tro

phy and joining countryman Diego Maradona and Brazil's Pele as legends of the game.

But is it fair?

No, of course not. The game is played much different than in those players' eras. Individuals can't just carry a team to a title, although Messi nearly did. A suspect Argentinian defense became a force during the knockout phase and caused Germany problems throughout the final.

But one of the best finishers in the game is reduced to a deeper, playmaking midfield role with Argentina due to the Argentine's lack of creativity at that position. The halftime substitution that took the menacing runs of Ezequiel Lavezzi off in favor of Sergio Agüero, who struggled to find match fitness due to an injury throughout the tournament, was a huge gamble that sealed Argentina's fate.

In time, perhaps, we will view this World Cup as a positive one for Messi. All the guy did was rescue Argentina in the group stages against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria. He then assisted Ángel di María on the winner against Switzerland in the Round of 16.

He didn't play terribly in the final, setting teammates up to finish chances that would have brought Argentina the world championship.

Just to see how much winning the World Cup title means to any player in the game was written across Messi's face following the match.

He was named the Golden Ball winner, given to the tournament's best player. Messi, though, looked so uninterested and rightly so.

This is why this guy is such a likable force in the game. He usually stays on his feet, without attempting to flop all over to win a free kick, and he could care less about individual accomplishments if it meant giving his country something it hasn't won since 1986.

Cristiano Ronaldo is widely viewed as one of the best players in the world, alongside Messi. Yet this year's World Cup performance where Portugal struggled to qualify for the tournament and was eliminated in the group stages isn't something Ronaldo is blamed for. He's almost given a pass for having a mediocre team.

Messi doesn't have a band of superstars, yet got his team to the final and is criticized harshly for not winning?

Not fair, indeed.

In any case, it's just four more years until the next World Cup in Russia.

And we're just a month away from the start of the club football season with the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga, Germany's Bundesliga and Italy's Serie A providing the big four European leagues to follow your favorite stars, such as Messi and Ronaldo.

Any thought that soccer's burgeoning popularity in America would subside after the United States were vanquished by Belgium in the second round need to look no further than the 10 million viewers that were averaged for each quarterfinal match.

So it might just be here to stay. And the countdown to the club season has already begun.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at jdill@bradenton.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service