The World cup is over for another four years. Germany were crowned as champions, and deserve all the plaudits coming their way. Argentina tried their best but ultimately came up short as they relied too heavily on one individual whereas the Europeans did it as a team.
Lionel Messi’s legacy
The hopes of an entire nation weighed heavily on the shoulders of Argentina’s Lionel Messi. In this respect, Messi was in an almost identical situation to his Barcelona teammate, Neymar. Many critics and fans alike saw this tournament as a chance for Messi to finally elevate himself to the exalted status of a true great and finally enter the pantheon of the Peles, Maradonas and Zidanes by winning a World Cup. Although Messi produced some magical moments during the group phases and provided a great assist for Angel Di Maria to knock out the Swiss in the quarter finals, he rarely showed his best work on a consistent basis. I feel that he, like his nemesis Christiano Ronaldo, was feeling the effects of long injury-interrupted season but more than that the Argentinian team seemed to depend heavily on him to provide all of the inspiration and creativity.
Besides the hopes of the nation it seemed that the media and pretty much everyone else seemed to think that it was up to Lionel Messi to single-handedly drag his team to the trophy. This was in stark contrast to the German approach, which emphasised the team ethic and spirit above individual brilliance. Although the winning goal scored by Mario Gotze was an outstanding piece of individual skill, the Germans managed to make it all the way to the finals by relying on a group of players who worked and ran for each other. In stark contrast, the constant chatter around the Argentines throughout the tournament was about their individual players like Higuain and Aguero, who failed to deliver on their pre-tournament hype.
Messi somehow got awarded the Golden Ball (supposedly awarded to the tournament’s best player) but he looked as surprised as everybody else when going up to receive his trophy. There is statistical analysis telling us that Messi deserves the award because he scored half of his team’s goals and assisted another goal. No one at the tournament created as many chances for his teammates, and no one dribbled past more defenders. There have been many outstanding players during the tournament and players like Manuel Neuer (keepers are generally few and far between with Germany’s Oliver Kahn the sole goalkeeper to win the award in ten tournaments), Bastian Schweinstager, James Rodriguez and Arjen Robben were far more consistent and deserving of the prize, in my opinion. I think that FIFA (that’s Sepp Blatter) decided to give the Golden Ball to either Neymar or Messi well in advance of the tournament and waited to see which team would go furthest.
I don’t think that the World Cup should define Messi’s legacy though, and he certainly shouldn’t be made the scapegoat for Argentina’s loss. His feats at club level plus the fact that Argentina made the final in this tournament show that he is an extraordinarily gifted player and should be remembered as one of the greatest ever to have played the game.
Jose Mourinho knows his stuff
The Special One must be grinning from ear to ear.
Looking at some of the World Cup performances, he seems to be a pretty good judge of character. There is the obvious one – selling David Luiz to Paris St Germain for a whopping £50 million is a great deal for Chelsea and shows why Jose was keen to always play Gary Cahill ahead of the Brazilian for most of last season. Garry Hayes from The Bleacher Report got it spot on:
When a club pays £50 million for a player, the minimum expectation is for him to at least have the discipline to control his emotions in times of need, to use his experience to get through. Then, there is the question of his ability, to make the right decisions and maintain composure to influence games. It’s schoolboy stuff.
For Luiz on Tuesday night, it was the opposite. If he has any of those qualities, they evaded him in an instant. Indeed, his performance—and that from the rest of his teammates—quickly went from tragedy to farce in just 20 first-half minutes as the goals reigned in for a ruthless Germany.
Another eye-catching performance (for all the wrong reasons) was that of Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas. The Spanish captain was at fault for at least two goals in the 1 – 5 demolition by Holland and he confessed it was the worst performance of his entire career. Never one to miss out on a good soundbite Diego Maradona was on hand to rub salt in the Spanish wounds and big up Jose at the same time:
“He played the worst game I’ve ever seen in my life and he’s just coming off a similar performance…and now I remember what my dear friend Mourinho told everyone. He said that Casillas wasn’t the starting goalkeeper and it cost him dearly. He had to leave Rea Madrid because of it and I agree with him.
Utter humiliation. Being on the wrong end of a 1 – 7 hammering in a World Cup match in your own country is supposed to be as bad as it gets. Brazil were swept aside by Germany in their semi final match in a matter of minutes which lead to much despair, wringing of hands, wailing and gnashing of teeth – if you were Brazilian of course. The inevitable stream of internet memes were not far behind as this game became the most tweeted sporting event OF ALL TIME.
So playing in the meaningless 3rd/4th playoff match was not exactly what the Brazilian team wanted to do, but at least it would give them (and their fans) a chance to make up for that limp and lifeless semi final loss and end the tournament on a high. Well, that didn’t work out so well as Brazil was thumped 0-3 by the Dutch and Big Phil Scolari
was sacked didn’t have his contract renewed by the Brazilian Football Federation. The same problems bedeviled the Brazilians (i.e. David Luis doesn’t know he’s a central defender) even with the return of captain Thiago Silva – basically the team had no communication among the back four and played as a bunch of individuals. In all fairness, Brazil were lucky to make it as far as they did in the tournament (scraping through against Colombia and Chile) and on the two occasions where they faced well-organised opposition, they were found severely lacking.
It’s easy enough to look for scapegoats in the Brazilian team particularly when certain individuals like Fred contributed so little to the action and were peripheral throughout the tournament. The other obvious target is Scolari himself who was castigated for omitting the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka, Lucas Leiva and Philip Coutinho. And there was the absence of the talismanic Neymar to consider as well. My observation is that the Brazilians seem to have kept faith with the system (and team) that won the Confederations Cup in 2013 – unfortunately for them, the same group of players seemed overcome by playing in front of their home fans and the default seemed to be to rely on the one guy who was not overawed – Neymar. Tactically there was a lack of cohesion and teamwork and the team seemed to lack the ability to change methods when things were not working.
A lot of analysis and work needs to be done to restore the injured pride of Brazil. Perhaps they will learn lessons from the German approach?