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December 20, 2014
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Values beyond the victory

More than pride in fighting right down to the finish a final which could have gone either way, Argentina should feel a genuine sense of achievement in creating the standard of teamwork needed to compete at the highest levels of world soccer — something more important than the laurels of a sporting victory and potentially more lasting. Perhaps no side in World Cup history has re-invented itself so completely in such a short period of time — so much so that a team which arrived in Brazil hoping that its universally admired world-class forwards could compensate for a fragile defence underwent a total role reversal during the final with rock-solid defending for almost two hours but the inaccuracy of the star strikers in the three clearest chances ultimately denying Argentina victory. Yet the team created between the opening match with Bosnia and Sunday’s final should be seen as more than an inspiring sporting model but a paradigm for the entire country. A campaign which began on a note of populism (the clamour for Carlos Tevez) and consolidated into élitism (an almost total reliance on the “Fantastic Four”) ended up as a genuinely inclusive effort involving 20 of the 23 players — surely this is the way ahead for Argentine democracy at the start of its fourth decade.

Beyond the players (all of them and not just Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi and the social network hero Javier Mascherano), an immense share of the credit should go to the trainer Alejandro Sabella — hopefully there will be a new public clamour to discourage him from discontinuing his splendid work. His values of sacrifice, humility and effort with a minimum of rhetoric are an example to the country. Although the changes during the final sparked debate among some fans, Sabella’s strategy was flawless throughout the tournament — as he summarized the final, Germany had far more ball possession and Argentina the best chances with perhaps the only error in the closing minutes when an exhausted side lowered a gear to play for penalties, finally opening a space for the decisive goal (for which both the pass and the shot came from the fresh legs of substitutes).

Congratulations are in order to Germany for perhaps the most glorious of their four championships (overcoming history to become the first European side to triumph in the Americas) but there is a strong case for saying that Argentina achieved even more.

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