Everybody loves a winner.
Even more so, a pretty one.
Like Federer, like Brazil in the 50s and 60s.
Sometimes, winning is everything.
So when the purists crib that Portugal were unaesthetic in the triumph at the European Cup this year, let’s put their comments in the right perspective.
It is Portugal’s name that will be inscribed on the trophy and history will record them as victors.
Will it matter , in a few years, how they emerged kings despite winning just one game in normal time? Will it matter that they barely made the pre-quarters, drawing all their three group Games?
It will not and Cristiano Ronaldo knows and recognises this better than anyone else.
Hobbling on the sidelines in the final, the man from Madeira cheered and spurred his teammates on inspiring them to the podium in his absence.
In the process, he went one better than his rival and the best player on the planet, Lionel Messi.
Messi may be beautiful, he may be sublime, but he has still to win a title for his native Argentina.
Ronaldo has his measure there.
Unlike tennis, badminton or squash, soccer is a team sport.
And one man does not a team make.
Winning need not be elegant, it need not be pleasing to the eye or the spectators.
Sometimes, it’s simply about getting the job done, doing what’s needed when it’s required.
Yes, we love to see our winners be gorgeous, heavenly and glorious.
But for every Federer, there’s a Nadal.
And for every Spain, there’s a Denmark, a Greece and now a Portugal.
What do you say to Lionel Messi when he loses yet another final and announces his retirement from internationals?
Are his fans to cry, “Come back, Messi, we’ll always love you, come what may”?
Or to join his plaintive chorus to ‘Don’t cry for me, Argentina’.
“Don’t cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don’t keep your distance.”
Truth be told, my first reaction to Messi’s missed penalty was the demoralising effect it would have on his teammates. To see their skipper miss his shot by a mile could only create more flutters and nerves in their midst.
And sure enough, his teammates missed another and that was the end of Argentina’s Copa America Centenario dreams.
That Messi would take this loss to heart and view it as a personal failure could only be foreseen in hindsight.
Will Messi be back?
The magician with the ball does know that soccer is a team game and that he’s not expected to shoulder the blame for his team’s inadequacies. And it’s not as though there isn’t a blueprint available on how to nullify the Messi threat personified by an Argentinean side. Germany have done it before and Chile did it to them twice.
Messi is hardly the first high-profile player to miss a crucial penalty. His Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo missed one in this year’s Euro. Roberto Baggio and Michel Platini are on that unfortunate list too.
Time is a great healer and it’s possible that the lure of another World Cup could draw the mercurial forward back.
Yes, it’s possible, and we certainly hope to see him back in national colours.
Until then, we’ll continue to enjoy his exploits with Neymar and Luis Suarez for Barca.
Will it be third time lucky for Lionel Messi?
The mesmerising Argentinean played his part in thumping hosts USA in the semis of the Copa America Centenario with one stupendous free-kick and two assists.
The men in striped white and blue take on defending champions Chile in a rematch of last year’s summit clash.
This is Messi’s third final in two years for his nation.
Will this end their title drought?
The line-up for the last four places were as the form book suggests.
Colombia and USA made up the numbers.
Brazil—minus Neymar—were a pale shadow of their former, glorious selves. And Uruguay were unfortunate that they had to leave their talismanic striker Luis Suarez on the injury bench.
100 years of the Copa America and there couldn’t be a more befitting end if Lionel Messi were to finally acquire the silverware he richly deserves.
Alexis Sanchez may have dissimilar thoughts.
Is Lionel Messi losing it?
The charismatic Argentinean first head-butted his Roma opponent, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and then grabbed him by the throat. Barcelona won 3-0
The usually cool-as-cucumber Messi has been red-carded just once in his international career—on his debut.
The Barca player escaped with a warning from the referee this time.
What is going on?
The Argentinean wasn’t exactly pleased with his performances during the Copa America where his team came close to winning the title only to lose to hosts Chile in the final.
This is the second time Messi has missed out on much-coveted silverware while representing his country. The first was the 2014 World Cup when Argentina drew a blank against Germany in the title round.
The reaction in the Argentine press has not been complimentary with questions about his greatness as a player and commitment to the national squad surfacing.
This despite the diminutive genius being adjudged the best player in both tournaments. There is no doubt that Messi is the best player on the planet.
Is he meeting his own exalted standards and expectations?
Diego Maradona was swift to launch a broadside at Messi’s feats in the South American tourney.
“It’s logical to fall, it is easy. We have the best player in the world, one who can go and score four goals on Real Sociedad and then he comes here and doesn’t score at all. You would say, but man, are you Argentine or Swedish? We need to stop busting on the folks who say that we should baby Messi. Messi needs to be treated just like we treat all the other players who put on the national team uniform. He is the best in the world, for better or worse. But look, he didn’t kill or rape anyone. Let’s not turn this into a soap opera.”
Messi’s grandfather, Antonio Cuccitini, was even more caustic.
“Some of him was there. Triumphs are the greatest things there are. But the last three games he was bad. He was lazy.”
More recently, the Human Rights Foundation criticized Messi for hobnobbing with abusers of children’s rights.
Messi laid the foundation stone for a venue for the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 together with Gabon dictator Ali Bongo.
France Football claimed that he was paid 2.4 million GBP to make the trip.
Human Rights Foundation President Thor Halvorssen said:
“In providing PR services to Gabon’s Bongo family, Lionel Messi has seriously undermined the credibility of his own charitable foundation. Whereas Messi claims to support children’s rights, and even serves as a UNICEF ambassador to promote youth education, he has endorsed a kleptocratic regime that refuses to investigate the ritual murder of children in Gabon.Messi’s trip is part of the Bongo family’s PR campaign to promote the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, which Gabon will host at enormous expense despite the fact that the Bongo family’s embezzlement has left 20 per cent of the population to live on less than $2 per day.”
Is it all adding to the pressure on the AlbiCeleste forward?
Or is this latest incident merely an aberration, a blot on a stellar record?
Still waters run deep.
Are we witnessing a rebirth of Messi as a firebrand on the field?
The speculation continues.
Is Lionel Messi ever going to win a major title as an Argentine?
Two Copa America finals, one World Cup final and yet the cupboard is bare.
He may be the finest player of his generation but his national team is not. At least, not yet.
Accompanied by the Galacticos of Barcelona, the magician with the ball is almost invincible.
He does not enjoy the same support alongside his fellow countrymen.
What are the reasons for this relatively poor show?
It is relative because for his showings at the above named tournaments, the young man captured two player and one young player of the tournament awards.
Hardly, what you’d term a no show.
Comparisons to Pele and Maradona will always fall short if the 28-year-old genius fails to capture a major international title.
It was, perhaps, easier for Pele. Club football did not take up most of the players’ time in those days.
Maradona , though , is another kettle of fish. He catapulted a small club side, Napoli, to two Serie A titles and another couple of runner-up finishes.
Argentina, of course, won the 1986 World Cup under him and made another stalwart run for the title in 1990 losing to Germany in the final.
Is Lionel Messi finished as a Argentine midfielder?
It would be a pity if it were so as media reports suggest.
Messi has his best chance to fill his trophy case at the 2018 World Cup in Russia—provided he keeps himself healthy and fit. He will be even more experienced and hopefully at the peak of his career.
The mind boggles—you mean to say Messi can get even better?
It helps even more if his teammates do.
A freely roaming Messi can do more damage than a Messi who is man-marked by not one, not two but three defenders.
What would Argentina not give to have strikers of the caliber of Neymar and Suarez alongside their talisman?
Unfortunately, national soccer is not club soccer and throwing money at a problem does not make it go away. The ethos of teamwork assumes salient importance.
Messi himself once said:
“I prefer to win titles with the team ahead of individual awards or scoring more goals than anyone else. I’m more worried about being a good person than being the best football player in the world. When all this is over, what are you left with? When I retire, I hope I am remembered for being a decent guy.“
Here’s what John Wooden has to say about teams:
Messi will not be great until his bench-mates make him great.
What he said:
“I have never demanded anything to stay because I don’t have any intention of going. I heard people say that my dad had spoken to Chelsea, to City … it’s all lies.
I heard all sorts of things said. I never come out and deny [stories] but this time I am. It has been said that I have pushed out lots of people … Eto’o, Ibrahimovic, Bojan, Guardiola … [and] I didn’t ask them to sack our manager.
It hurts because it comes from people who [supposedly] love Barcelona. It’s people who want to hurt the club – and this time it did not come from Madrid, like other times, it has come from here. I have heard lots of things being said about me before and now. They make it look like I am the one who is in charge here when I am just another player.
Don’t throw shit at us from outside because that will only do us harm.”
Lionel Messi threw all speculation about his future with Barcelona out the window following his team’s 3-1 drubbing of Atletico Madrid, their first in over a year.
The statement allayed fans’ fears for the time being given the recent happenings at the club in the past week.
Barca have sacked their sporting director, Andoni Zubizarreta and Carles Puyol has quit the club.
While president, Josep María Bartomeu, has reassured Catalonians that Luis Enrique will continue as coach, he also announced that presidential elections will be brought forward a year making his own future at the club uncertain.
Messi’s relationship with Enrique has been on the rocks with the manager keen on resting his star player to prevent possible breakdown and burn out.
Messi would rather play most if not all games.
However, at the 2014 Ballon d’Or awards, the Argentine revealed fresh doubts.
“I don’t know where I will be next season. I would like to finish with Newell’s [the club from his hometown of Rosario]. As Cristiano Ronaldo says, only God knows the future. Things in football can change overnight.”
What he really meant:
“Now, now,now. If Chelsea or Manchester City are willing to bite the bait, I could still move. Besides, I can now bargain with Barca about the extension of my contract. More power to me. It’s all about negotiations, baby, and I like to be the one in the dribbler’s seat. Perhaps, I’ll get Luis (Enrique) to start me more often.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“It’s all about continuity and what’s best for the club and its fans.”
What he said:
“I am saving it for life. I’m not going to trade it for anything. I’m going to frame it, put it on the wall and then treasure it.”
Hong Kong may have been trounced 7-0 by Argentina in a friendly but Ghanaian-born forward Christian Kwesi Annan is far from unhappy.
The striker swapped shirts with Lionel Messi at the end of the game.
“He (Lionel Messi) said I am the best player in my team, and asked to exchange jerseys with me.It feels amazing. I have a lot of respect for him. I tried to challenge him and couldn’t get the ball from him. He is very pacey.
Watching Messi on TV you think it’s easy to take the ball from him but it is impossible [in reality]. He has quick feet.”
What he really meant:
“Lionel is the best footballer on the planet. I’ll treasure his shirt more than any goals I score. He’s an inspiration and his jersey is mine. Now I can always visualize myself doing a Messi. I’ll build a new wall too if I have to.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“I wish I had bought tickets for the game and watched it from the sidelines. That way I could have enjoyed his play without having to run around chasing him, his team-mates and the ball.”
Roger Federer is still a champion.
Flying under the radar, the 17-time Grand Slam winner fought tooth and nail taking the championship match into the final set last Sunday.
Novak Djokovic may have clinched his seventh Slam. But no guesses for who walked away with the plaudits and the kudos.
Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov are amongst heirs-in-waiting to the Big Four. But for now, they are just that.
Brazil’s shocking disintegration against Germany in the semi-final and the consequent shellacking had their fans in tears.
No consolation for them in the third place match either. Holland walked away with the honours—a meeting their coach Van Gaal derided as leaving one team feeling a loser despite having reached the semi-finals. His exact words:
“But the worst thing is, I believe, that chances are that you lose twice in a row. A tournament where you’ve played so marvellously well, that you go home as a loser just because you could possibly lose the last two matches. So, this has got nothing whatsoever to do with sports, not in my view.”
It’s Germany versus Argentina tonight in the final. Two former champions, two great gladiatorial sides.
Germany hold the edge on current form. But Argentina have Lionel Messi.
The Barca galactico was completely out of sorts in the quarters and the semis; the man-to-man marking rendering him ineffectual. Can he do a Maradona and take Argentina home?
Knock-out games are less about scoring and more about attrition. It’s about waiting and hoping that your opponent makes a mistake and then capitalising on it and drawing the shutters down.
That’s how Holland and Argentina played out their semi-final. It made for extremely boring viewing. Van Gaal repeated the mistakes of the 2010 final against Spain when Holland played hard and foul ruining any possibility of their moment in the sun. Hoping to win on penalties should be a strategy for relative minnows such as Costa Rica, not for the team that has dazzled the world with its brand of Total Football over the past four decades.
The first Test Match between India and England got underway this week at Trent Bridge.
The hosts presented the visitors an Indian wicket: flat and lifeless.
The match has already produced a record of sorts. The final wicket partnerships in the first innings produced two hundred-plus partnerships.
If Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami showed that the wicket held no devils, Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson rubbed in the curator Steven Birk’s face in it with their world record stand of 198—the highest ever in Test cricket.
Birks copped some criticism for the state of the wicket.
“We wanted to produce a pitch with pace, bounce and carry which hasn’t happened unfortunately. There’s quite a lot of moisture underneath but it’s a hard surface on top which is why it’s lacking pace. The moisture readings taken earlier in the week were quite high and we haven’t seen enough of the sun to really bake it out.”
Ian Botham’s take on the pitch:
“You might as well be playing in Chennai with this wicket.”
Jimmy Anderson had similar views:
“Two days out we could see the pitch was not going to have huge amount of pace in it. That is something you just got to try and put out of your mind. We are as frustrated as everyone else watching.”
Has the mandate to ensure matches last into the final day hastened the death of Test cricket? Indian fans stayed away—their ratio a paltry 10:90.
Draws occur in Tests all the time. It’s the nature of the result that makes all the difference to the enthusiasts.
What he said:
"I think that because I am rich, handsome and a great player people are envious of me. I don’t have any other explanation."
Cristiano Ronaldo is a narcissist. The Portuguese striker reacts to being booed by Dinamo fans at Zagreb. Real Madrid triumphed 1-0.
What he really meant:
“Don’t Messi with me.”
What he definitely didn’t: