World Cup: Finals Monkeys & Stars
Sunday, 22 of the best soccer players in the world
will take the field for the chance to hoist the
championship trophy from one of the best tournaments in
sport. Whether the Dutch or the Spaniards come out
victorious in Johannesburg's Soccer City on this cool
winter night, one thing is for certain: a monkey will be
looking for a new back to climb onto.
(I went back to my days of college for this column. I woke up at 3:30am ate a bowl of cereal while doing some final prep work and hit up a Zebrahead mix on Pandora before just diving in. We'll see if I'm as efficient and well versed as I used to be when I would bang out ten page papers in three hours the day it was due. Something tells me a two year old child, wife, and five years have slowed me down a bit and I am going to be regretting this in about six hours.)
Holland and Spain are two of soccer's superpowers. Both have won European Championships. Spain holds the title right now. Both teams are made up of some of the biggest super stars in world football. (I've been listening to so much Ruud Gullit and Jurgen Klinsmann I've started using football instead of soccer on a more recurring basis. Never did it before, it just started happening. I'm not just trying to be cool American soccer fan that tries to call it football just to prove I know stuff about the sport. Trust me I've known for a long time I can't pull of cool, no point in trying to start now.)
These two teams are stacked. If you pay attention to international soccer at all, even if it is just for big things like the World Cup, European Championships or Champions League, the players for Spain and Netherlands have played at those levels. They play for Manchester United, Barcelona, AC Milan, Liverpool, and Champions League Champions Inter Milan. Even if you are new to soccer those names you know. They are the cream of the crop.
These players have felt the pressure of the big stage. But never have they felt what they are about to feel when they walk out on the field Sunday; the enormous pressure of actually meeting expectations. There are about eight teams that came into the World Cup with legitimate thoughts of grandeur. That is about it. Only a handful of the World actually thought on June 11th they would be playing on Sunday and could say those thoughts were fairly accurate. Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, England and Italy. To be fair Italy and England probably would have had to play their absolute best soccer for an entire month to get there, they weren't quite on the same level as the other six, but I wouldn't have scoffed at you if picked them at the start of the tournament. Of those eight, only three have never won the World Cup (Portugal, Spain, Netherlands). The chances two teams that never won the World Cup would be facing off Sunday were pretty slim. But that is what we have. The ultimate Championship, the ultimate stakes, and the ultimate what if's.
As a player you get two maybe three shots at the World Cup. Four is questionable, five is right out. As a country you are lucky to even have a chance to play for the title. The Dutch are in their third Finals, losing back to back Cups in the 70's to West Germany and Argentina. The Spanish have never played in a Cup Final. Two of the best teams in the world, but there is only one trophy and only one team gets to put a star on their jersey next year.
I absolutely love this tradition in soccer. Win a World Cup put a star on your jersey and keep it there for ever. I know Brazil looks cool with 5, Italy puts them in their crest, but there is something cool about England's subtle one. Solidarity at the top. Kind of like, "We've done it. We want another one, but look we have our one. See it? Right here above the Three Lions." And now one team gets to add a star to their logo. Obviously it will look cooler on top of the Dutch Lion than the Spanish crest, but either way what an honor for that country.
The worst thing about the World Cup, there is no wait ‘til next year. You have to wait four years, and you might not even make it in four years. Especially for Europeans nations. And this is no League championship where a few hundred thousand supporters might be living and dying with your outcome. The teams just have an entire country they are either going to rise up to a never before seen height or drop them so hard they'll need the four years to recover.
The players know this. These Dutch players weren't around when Johan Cruyff was leading the Total Football revolution in Holland. But they know people call them the best team to never win a World Cup. Ask Phil Mickelson how nice it is to have that monkey off your back. The Spanish are known as World Cup chokers. They never fulfill expectations. Some might think reaching the World Cup Final should be good enough. Not when you are defending European Champions. They've already conquered the top teams on the hardest continent in football. Why can't they beat the world? To continue with the golf comparisons: the Spanish look a lot like their countryman Sergio Garcia. They show a lot of promise, they can win tournaments, and they just never seem to be there for the biggest one. (The only difference is I actually kind of enjoy this team from Spain, where I actively root for Sergio to shank an 8 iron off the side of cliff.)
Think about how rare this kind of championship is in the world of sport. How often do you have two teams who with so much pressure to win their first title ever face off for the whole bag of marbles? This is like if Boone and Bartman hadn't got in the way of the Red Sox and Cubs in 2003. Two fan bases that have never felt the ultimate high of winning a championship facing off. One finally gets to celebrate and let go of all the bad memories, the other gets to question if it will ever happen. Unfortunately we never got that Cubs vs. Red Sox World Series and never will thanks to the Red Sox stealing a soccer movie so they could win a championship. I am completely fine settling for the Dutch and Spanish.
With all the weight of two historic soccer super nations on their back who will finally be able to say they've climbed the highest mountain? I see a 2-1 victory from the Dutch. Goals by Sneijder and Huntelaar gets the game winner in extra time. The Spanish goal scored by Iniesta. Snjeider's goal gives him the golden boot for most goals in the tournament over the Spaniard David Villa. (In a world of one named super stars, David Villa goes the opposite way and has both names on the back of his jersey. That, his amazing hustle and great ball skill have me a David Villa fan.)
The game should be epic. Two countries looking for their first title ever. To be crowned World Champions. A title that can never be taken away. Unlike the monkey, that one team will finally get rid of forever.
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