The Beautiful Game
I watched the World Cup Final at a movie theater in Oakland with two good friends from college. We watched in Spanish, with a group largely supporting Argentina. I know it’s a cliché to root for the underdog. But without a rooting interest, I usually support the team I think is best, the team that I believe deserves to win, has earned the plaudits. I was supporting Germany.
The match itself was as fun a 0-0 game for 112 minutes as you’ll ever see. The game fell into the now familiar pattern between Guardiolists (Germany, possessing and pressing higher) and Mourinists (Argentina, countering and sitting deeper), but it was open. Both sides squandered glorious chances. Cynical play was limited and there was none of the mal-intentioned hacking that tarnished a 2010 final that should have been the ultimate coronation of technical brilliance (that moment would, surprisingly, come two years later when a Spain team in decline crushed an overmatched Italian side in the finals of Euro 2012). As in the 2010 final, the poorer team squandered the game’s best chances in regular time, missing two one-on-one’s with the keeper. And as in the 2010 final, a moment of magic from a little genius after the 110th minute settled the affair. The best team had won.
Special mention goes out to the game’s two midfield generals–Schweinsteiger and Mascherano. Both were imperious, dictating the game for their respective teams. In the absence of Di Maria, Mascherano surprisingly emerged as Argentina’s link between attack and defense, playing majestic ball after majestic ball out from the back in to attackers in dangerous position, often bypassing Argentina’s increasingly static number 10. Likewise, lacking cover for the game’s final 90 minutes after Khedira pulled up lame in warmups and Kramer was forced off early, Schweinsteiger put in an excellent defensive shift, shutting down Messi and covering for his more attack-minded midfield partners.
After the game, my buddies and I headed to a German biergarten in San Francisco. The atmosphere was euphoric. Men and women in German uniforms–many draped in German flags, some wearing lederhosen–were singing and dancing, “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Super Deutchland, Ole.” People passed around star stickers so everyone could add a fourth to their German crest. A few stray Argentine supporters stood around, drinking their beers in peace, gamely, perhaps sheepishly, watching their German counterparts celebrate. As the place emptied out, we found ourselves–two Americans and one pseudo-American wearing a team USA jersey–talking to two Germans who were visiting, and they took us to a party in a hotel room with a bunch of Lufthansa flight attendants, where we drank, talked, and just hung out for a few hours before finally making our way back to Berkeley.
The past month has been exhilarating on the pitch. But it’s been even better off it. More than anything, what I’ll take away from this World Cup is how it brings people together. National allegiances somehow beget international camaraderie and general goodwill. At its best, sport can bring friends, compatriots, rivals, and enemies together. It can overcome language barriers. It can calm tensions and build and strengthen bridges–this World Cup found Americans rooting for Iran! It gives us all something to talk about and helps us find common ground and relate, helps us all realize that, you know, we’re not so different after all. The spirit of the World Cup is a truly wonderful, powerful thing. There’s nothing quite like it.
For more coverage of the final, see Jordan’s excellent recap.