Thursday, 24 July 2014

2014 FIFA World Cup Finals Thoughts

I truly enjoyed watching this year's FIFA World Cup tournament and gained a new perspective on and appreciation for international football.  Congratulations to Germany and their fans on their World Title and congratulations to Argentina for a valiant and hard fought effort in defeat. From a grand tournament perspective I was impressed with the offensive side of the game, something that I never really thought existed in football before.  Whenever I watched the game in the past I always felt like it was 0-0, 1-0, 2-1 kind of result.  That was something that didn't impress me when I had other sports entertainment options like American Football, Baseball, Basketball and Hockey at my disposal.  This years World Cup seemed to have more offense then I remember in past years.

There were low scoring match ups as always this year, but for some reason seeing the degree of skill and talent neccessary to get the ball down such a long field through so many defenders and then past a very talented net minder made me appreciate just how tough it is to get a goal and just how remarkable players like Neymar and Messi and Ronaldo and Thomas Muller and James Rodriguez were in this tournament by being regular offensive threats for thier teams.

For as much as the idividual talents were exciting to watch it was the team depth from top to bottom and front to back that really helped Germany prevail as this years World Cup Champion.  Aside from the obvious winners and losers in Brazil I feel like the big winner of this World Cup were the substitue players, or players who entered the game to replace starters on the pitch.  The United States team had their first goal ever from a replacement in the World Cup tournament and in fact ended up with two goals from their substitues.  The two substitutes from Germany were pivitol on the assist and goal that won the World Cup; which was also a first for the tournament's history.  During the many matches I was able to watch, substitutes were often difference makers who brought the energy and "big play" that their teams needed to either win or bring "a result".

I think that the Brazilian fans are also to be commended.  The U.S. media was not overtly blatant or over the top in suggesting that violence and negativity might come from a disapointed Brazilian fan base, but concern was expressed.   In spite of the crushing disapointment Brazilian fans faced I did not hear of any inapropriate behavior on their part that would bring any more unwanted attention to the countries struggle to achieve their ultimate goal.  Given the degree of passion for football in Brazil and the heart-felt desire to proudly display their countries star players, the security and fan reaction after the loses to Germany and the Netherlands should be recognized.  That's not to make too big a deal though... it's not something I applaud because it's the appropriate way to act and expected, but it's at least something that should be mentioned on their behalf, especially since the concerns had been expressed that it might not result that way. 

One thing I still can't get over in the tournament and I would absolutely LOVE to see changed are the penalty kicks that take place in the elimination rounds after a tied result following extra time.  To me it's the worst way to decide a game, and it just magnifies how bad a choice it is to have the penalty kicks as a deciding factor.  It puts an unfair spotlight on idividuals in what should be one of the ultimate team sports.  It also erases all the good work done by defenders and makes their contributions to the contest come down to what ultimately amounts to a lucky craps shoot.

It's not entirely unsual for players to be red carded and a team to go down by a player on the field during the contest.  So perhaps in extra time we can have each team go down by one player for the duration of the period?  Maybe it will open up a little more of the field and result in a few more deciding goals?  And while I would not suggest it during the traditional 30 minute extra time period, how about creating a second 15 minute extra time period where teams are each down 2 players and any goal scored is the end of the game as it is in hockey as part of a sudden death over time period?  If the game gets past that second 15 minute extra time run with the score still tied then if they must they can still go to the penalty kicks.  I just think every potential option to eliminate the penalty kick result should be considered.

As bad as I would feel about winning that way, I can't imagine how bad it must feel to lose a game that way as the Netherlands did to Argentina in the semi final.

Another thing I don't like is the diving that happens.  I feel like this year was not as bad as some past World Cups that I watched.  I know dives are going to happen but they need to be punished more often or more severely to try and rid it from the sport.  It puts unfair pressure on the referees who already have so much going on and face so much criticism.  Why anyone would want to ref a professional football match is beyond me.  It seems like a rather thankless job.  Kudos to the men and women who do it out of what must be their passion and love of the game.  Almost as bad as the dives though are the "hamming up" of legitimate fouls.  Most every soccer player looks like he just got stabbed in the back with a knife when he falls to the ground after a foul.   I watched my niece's soccer team for years in junior high and high school and those girls showed more toughness and grit then the men on these professional football teams do after they are fouled.  There are going to be legitimate injuries, pain and distress, but every foul should not require rolling around and screams of pain. 

I've heard discussion about eliminating the 3rd vs. 4th place match up, but I like keeping that contest.  I think it's a great example for children especially.  It shows that there can be some redemption after loss and that there is some pride to be taken in bouncing back from a defeat to play for something.

As I wait for the next Wolrd Cup four years from now I think I would like to follow football (soccer) more closely than I have in the past.  I just don't know if I want to follow American soccer or the European football leagues.  I'm torn because while I would prefer to become more invested in American Soccer where more American's will be competeing  and I might know better about the U.S. players in 2018, I also would like to see football at it's best, and I think it's fair to argue that Major League Soccer is not yet at the level of the Premiere League.  I don't know that I have the time to invest in following both leagues given the other sports I already view.  I'm not old enough to just retire and watch sports 24/7... haha.  I think I'm more inclined to go the MLS route though for now and follow the European leagues from a distance.  Perhaps selfishly, I hope that the best soccer (football) is eventually played here in the United States.  I know that is going to take time though and I do appreciate that several U.S. players who have played in Europe are making the decision now to play here at home.

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