A couple of friends have messaged me asking if I was going to share my thoughts on the World Cup. Although I run this humble little website, I’m not so sure it’s my place. I’m not a huge soccer (football?) fan and am not overly knowledgeable about the sport.
I have, however, lived overseas, in a country that has won the World Cup when they won the World Cup. I have stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to see that recently victorious Brazilian soccer (football?) team parade their bus slowly down Copacabana beach, hoisting the coveted trophy to the millions (yes, millions) of adoring fans who had stayed up all night to see it. This was about four in the morning and by my recollection, albeit hazy, I’m not sure how many locals missed it. Days after World Cup victories become unofficial national holidays and the least productive workdays of the calendar year, as they should.
I have been a fan of a team that has won a World Series. I went to a university that has won multiple national championships in both basketball and football. I am a fan of a team that’s won a Super Bowl, twice. The hockey team I cheer for even boasts back-to-back Stanley Cups.
I’m pretty sure the elation I felt in all those moments, as glorious as they were, paled in comparison to what Argentinians are currently feeling, and will feel for a while. If you don’t believe me, watch this.
Ages ago, I wrote about my summer spent in Brazil, which luckily coincided with them winning the 1994 World Cup. I was in the right place, at the right time, and became graciously immersed in a country’s crash course in soccer (football!). This was an education in what soccer means to other cultures around the world and how they celebrate their national pastimes.
In almost every country outside the United States, you are born with a soccer ball in your crib. In poorer countries where families can’t afford baseball bats or football helmets, golf shoes or goalie pads, all you need to play soccer is a ball and a couple of shirts to form an imaginary goal. Gather some friends and you have yourself a game, no expenses necessary, which comes in handy when expenses are at a premium.
American kids grow up playing soccer then generally give it up for another more popular sport. There aren’t many other sports elsewhere worth abandoning for soccer. That’s simply not an option when dreams of becoming a national hero haunt every kid the moment they head to bed or drift off in class.
Argentina’s World Cup victory in Sunday’s Final, and the reaction to it, reminded us just what this means to fans around the world and what it means for one man whose resume had yet to include one.
There are not that many soccer players in the history of the sport that you can place above Lionel Messi, especially after Sunday’s victory. Forever living in the shadow cast by Argentinian legend Diego Maradona, Messi is commonly, along with Ronaldo, considered the best soccer player alive today.
But no player can be considered the greatest ever without leading his country to a World Cup Trophy. Lionel Messi has now checked that box. There will never, for the rest of eternity, be an Argentinian man or woman, boy or girl, who speaks ill of Lionel Messi. That’s how much soccer (football?) means to them.
While this is Argentina’s third World Cup trophy and their first since Maradona’s in 1986, it’s not entirely unfair or inaccurate to suggest that the country’s soccer history pales in comparison to their neighbors to the North. Everyone’s does. Brazil sets the soccer bar high. Their five World Cup trophies top Germany’s and Italy’s four. With Sunday’s victory, Argentina now stands alone with three. I’m guessing none have been as sweet.
If you imagine the biggest party, the biggest parade, a sports victory that means more to a nation than any victory has ever meant to you, that’s what’s going on in Argentina right now. Add to the fact you have a sports figure take one giant leap towards a GOAT status that’s eluded him, and you have the icing on the cake, a story book sports tale, and a Final for the ages.
Argentina may never be the same or at least won’t for a while. The nation will forever wear this championship with pride. After a gut-wrenching, heartstring-tugging final that sports fans were unable to take their eyes off, every house from Buenos Aires to Tierra Del Fuego was undoubtedly glued to their televisions as their soccer (football?) team, after nearly forty years, finally brought one home. It’s a story you’d be ludicrous not to root for.
If you pull for greatness or people fulfilling their legacy, then this World Cup was your Cup of tea. Those same people texting me to write about the game were the same people telling me it was the best final they’d ever seen. The star power or Lionel Messi added to the intrigue. Superlatives aside, they weren’t far from the truth. The game was riveting, as was Argentina’s path to finally surround their soccer super star with talent.
The parade I saw that dawn in Brazil, the trophy, the people, the celebration, the elation, the energy, seems like a lifetime ago. This was a moment in time where every Brazilian problem was forgotten. That was 28 years ago. It had been longer that Argentina had celebrated in similar fashion. The Copa is theirs for four more years. Expect the celebration to continue and for Lionel Messi’s name to forever be etched in the county’s rich lore.
Felicitaciones, Argentina, a una copa bien merecida!