World Cup final shows soccer is a team game

Today, Germany beat Argentina by 1-0 in extra time to win their fourth World Cup. Or, if you were to listen to the media, Germany beat Lionel Messi.

Unfairly but expectedly nonetheless, the media is crucifying the world’s best player for the result. But this tournament shows that soccer is a team game.

Had Gonzalo Higuain buried the sitter he was gifted midway through the first half, Messi is the captain who lifts the World Cup rather than Phillip Lahm. It’s Messi’s fault Higuain couldn’t even hit the target?

Messi wasn’t at his best this tournament and didn’t deserve to win the Golden Ball (MVP). But to crucify a guy who scored 4 goals, including 2 match winners (both half of Argentina’s total) for a team where no one else scored more than a single goal… sorry, I won’t do it. At least he contributed, unlike many of his teammates.

On paper, Argentina had the best group of attacking players in the world. Messi, Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Ezquiel Lavezzi, Rodrigo Palacios. This group was so good that Argentina’s coaching staff omitted Juventus’ star Carlos Tevez. But of that group, only Messi and Di Maria bothered to show up.

Contrary to popular myth, Diego Maradona did not win the 1986 World Cup single-handedly (even if he did score a goal with a single hand). He was by far the best player in that tournament but he had other people around him who contributed. 

(And people conveniently forget that Maradona also lost a World Cup final by 1-0 to Germany on a goal a few minutes from the end.)

Messi didn’t have the luxury of much help, certainly not in the last two games. When Di Maria played, Messi had a tiny bit of support. When Di Maria was injured for the semifinal and final, Messi had no real support. Argentina won all the games in which the two played together and did not win either of the games during which Di Maria was absent.

We no longer live in an era where players can win World Cups by themselves. I’m not sure we ever truly did. Today, top players play too many games. Access to video and games from around the world is ubiquitous, making it easier to figure out how to neutralize top players.

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