The World Cup final should be one of the most exciting days in a soccer fan’s calendar. But how can one write about soccer when the world is descending into hell on one’s doorstep? How can one contemplate soccer statistics when the only facts that really matter are the 157 dead and the thousands of rockets being launched in a game without a winner? A bloody tie, in which the innocents from two bedraggled sides are left facing the penalty shootout.
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So no, the diary isn’t exactly looking forward to Sunday’s game between Argentina and Germany, even though it could be the best final in years. Other thoughts dominate. How many cafes will be bombed where people have gathered just to watch a soccer match? How many people will be forced to take shelter from missiles and mortars when all they want to do is watch the world’s biggest sporting event?
In England, boys grow up with the story of a legendary soccer game on the Somme during World War I, when soldiers from both sides put down their arms and celebrated Christmas 1914 by having a kick-about in no-man’s-land (the official result isn’t known, but we’re guessing the Germans won on penalties). What chance Sunday’s final triggering a pause for thought, a cessation of hostilities by both sides?
Certainly, the eyes of the world won’t be watching events in Gaza or Sderot. While the naughty boys who won’t stop fighting continue their skirmish in the sandy playground, over a billion people worldwide will be watching the game in Rio de Janeiro.
World Cup finals are generally dour, attritional events, but this one may – just may – be a little different. That’s if Germany brings the same A-game to the stadium that obliterated Brazil 7-1 in Tuesday’s semifinal. If the Germans get anywhere near that level of control, Argentina could also be on the end of a hammering.
No two games are alike, though, and it’s impossible to imagine Argentina defending as poorly as the Brazilians (in fact, it’s impossible to imagine a group of visually impaired 8-year-olds defending as badly as that). Indeed, defense has been Argentina’s strongest card – no goals conceded in the past three games, only three in the entire tournament.
The problem has been at the other end, with the Argentinians only scoring eight goals in six games (so, one more than Germany managed in a single game against the tournament favorites). The one near-certainty is that Leo Messi will have to be at his game-changing best for the South Americans to have any hope.
Sunday will give us a chance to see how good this Germany side really is. Tuesday’s drubbing of Brazil was a freak scoreline, and at the moment we’re tempted to attribute that result more to Brazilian ineptitude and mental frailties than German genius.
The diary would just like to mention in passing – for the 46th time – that Argentina was its tip to win the tournament. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we’re still going to back the Albiceleste: 2-1, with Messi to score the winner.
And if it goes to penalties, just remember to keep watching, as Netherlands defender Ron Vlaar discovered on Wednesday: