LEE’S SUMMIT, JUNE 23, 2014 – In the world of soccer (futbol for me) there are certain constants, just like in every other sport:
1 – Good Team Lose Great games
2 – Good Teams find a way to win difficult games.
3 – Run of the mill teams often infuriate you because they make life difficult
4 – no game is ever won till the final whistle (or as Yogi Berra so eloquently put it, “it ain’t over till it’s over”).
This past weekend all of these happened and depending on where you sit, you find yourself either ecstatically happy, or devastated by the exact same kick or header that leads to the Goal.
First, I want to talk about Argentina and their star Lionel Messi. Argentina, picked to be in the knock out round since before the first whistle, face Iran – a team that has never made it out of the first round, a team that had to import all its coaches, and a team that did not play to win; but, played not to lose.
Iran’s strategy was simple. Force Argentina to make a mistake, and if we can we win, otherwise we walk out with a 0 – 0 tie and one (1) point. To do this they set up their team to have, aside from the goalie, 10 men between the ball and the goal. Their defense was brilliant for 90 minutes. They made no mistakes, and the times Argentina Challenged the goal, the goalie was up to the task.
Then Lionel Messi, on the 91st minute (1 minute of stoppage or injury time) gets the ball on the right side; where he’s been incapable of doing anything all day. He takes a drag step to the left with the ball neatly tucked on his left foot, the defender steps with him. Messi takes one accelerating step and gets a few inches of space from the defender. The defenders reaches out with his leg to block. Messi plants his right foot next to the ball – the kicker’s stand. He kicks a curling ball to the top left of the goal. The goalie moves as he should to his right and stretches out , but the ball is just a bit higher and a bit more to his right and it finds the back of the net.
Did Iran fail in any way? No, they played a fantastic match and for 90 minutes frustrated the number five ranked team in FIFA. Yet, when the final moment came, and Argentina had been given that one extra minute to figure out how to take full advantage; Lionel Messi found the net.
If you root for Argentina, you were ecstatic at that moment. If you root for Iran, you were devastated at that moment. All the frustration of 90 minutes of failure by the Argentine attack replaced by one kick: Argentina won.
Let’s look at the other side of a last minute heroic finish. The United States is not known as a giant in the world of futbol. The United States announcers on ESPN continued to tell the audience how historic it would be if the US moved on to the next round, and if they did it against Portugal on the second game it would be the fastest ever for an US team to make the elimination round. In short, the United States was playing well above expectations. Germany beat Portugal by a score of 4 to 0, the US beat Ghana 2 – 1, Ghana tied Germany 2 – 2 on the second round. This is a group stacked with great teams (except for the US, who had lost 3 times to Ghana to end up going home).
The US team did not fail. It played an amazing 90 minutes of memorable futbol. The team rose above an early mistake to go ahead 2 – 1 in what was to be a shocking turn of events. Portugal, in eleven games where they’d had the lead at one point in the game, had never lost or tied a game. World Cup futbol brings out the very best of every national team.
The US team had taken the lead 81st minutes into the game when substitute DeAndre Yedlin, who played his college ball at Akron and now plays for Seattle Sounders FC, found himself pushing up the right side. His speed and control a unique addition to the squad late in the game. He took the ball deep, turned and kicked towards the center, the ball bounced off and ended at the feet of McBride, who tried to put it in and was blocked, bouncing out to a trailing Zusi. Zusi puts the ball in play in front of the goal, and in front of Dempsey who timed his attack perfectly, stayed onside till Zusi released the ball from his foot, and took full advantage of a well-played ball, to push the ball with his body to the back of the net.
The score at the 81st minute, US 2 and Portugal 1: This is how the game finished in regulation time. The sideline announced that the game would be extended for another four (4) minutes due to stoppage and injury time. A moment later the sideline corrected itself and the stoppage time was extended to five (5) minutes – a correction that would prove disastrous for the United States.
The game approached the 95th minute. The US seemed to still have the game in hand. Cristiano Ronaldo, the famed Portuguese player had been kept in check by injuries and by great play by the American Defenders.
The one thing about great teams, Portugal is ranked #4 by FIFA, is that they never give up. In their mind, the game can be won with just one kick. Every player in the team knows that disaster is only separated from a miracle by one infinitesimally small moment.
With the clock ticking down its final thirty seconds, Cristiano Ronaldo gets away from a defender. Not by yards, but by a split second. Just enough to get clear air to the left side of the goal from his point of view. The ball carried the distance, curled like a perfectly shaped hook to the left side of the goal, where Silvestre Varela could dive forward, meet the ball’s flight with his head, and punch it in for the equalizer.
Two games, with less than a minute to go, both finished with a goal. On one side jubilation, on the other sadness.
Argentina ranked #5 by FIFA moves on to the knockout round, the group of 16. The US, Portugal, Germany and Ghana will have to play their final game to figure out who advances. However, for the United States, a great game ends up in a tie.
Fubol will tear your heart out in ways the few other sports get to. Games that end in a 1 – 0 victory are exciting games; because both teams know that one miscue can turn the win to a draw, or the draw to a loss.
Focus is demanded for all the minutes of the game. Focus by the players. Focus by the Referees. But most importantly for us the Fans of the game: Focus by the fans. You look away, and you miss the most important score of the match. It does truly happen in the blink of an eye.
The Lee’s Summit Conservative