September 20, 2014
Mission accomplished for Alejandro Sabella’s soccer squad, regardless of the result of today’s final against Germany — reaching the last two when Argentina ranks fourth in the all-time table, the 2014 Brazil World Cup can never be considered a failure. Argentina is in the final for the first time since 1990 but has already surpassed that campaign — going all the way then while scoring a miserly five goals (as against eight so far now) and being more Italian than the Italians in Italy’s World Cup, Carlos Bilardo’s squad forfeited much of its right to complain about the controversial penalty handing that trophy to Germany. But why go back to 1990, why not to the 1986 triumph (again against Germany)? Its key ingredients were having the world’s best player (Diego Maradona) in a tournament played in Latin America (Mexico), a combination never repeated since — until now with Lionel Messi in Brazil. Although heavy favourites, Germany has at least two huge historical barriers to overcome — in a kind of soccer’s Monroe Doctrine, no European side has ever triumphed in the Americas and no continent has ever won three times running (Italy and Spain the previous winners). A formidably gifted team scoring 17 goals so far but six decades ago the Hungarians looked even more unbeatable (thrashing the Germans 8-3 in an earlier round) and Germany still pulled off the “miracle of Bern” — why should not Argentina tell a similar story today, this time at German expense?
But let us focus on Sabella’s gutsy players. Collectively, the side has shown a remarkable ability to re-invent itself (with five changes in the semi-final from the opener against Bosnia), transforming from the “Fantastic Four” to a genuine team in the process. Individually, there are so many inspiring stories — like Enzo Pérez (highly underrated despite being named the Portuguese league’s most valuable player) or the return of Martín Demichelis from soccer limbo — but attention inevitably centres on Messi and Javier Mascherano, the latest rage in social networks. The scoreless Messi of the decisive stages is probably more valuable than his four goals from Group F. In 1986 the Germans deployed an elaborate strategy (including their best player Lothar Matthäus) to stop Maradona and succeeded but Argentina lifted the World Cup — all Argentina’s rivals since Group F tried to block Messi and even Holland was sucessful in doing it but who is in the final today? As for Mascherano’s heroics, they are on everybody’s lips (and smart phones) and need no repetition.
In short, a team of players who deserve to be champions and are already heroes.