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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.

Please send any comments or questions to gheinrich@ktar.com. If you are
super hip and in with the times follow me on Twitter

@AP620. Yeah I finally caved
in and started Twittering. So we’ll see how that
goes.