Two weeks ago something happened that is not supposed to happen in professional sports. The best team did not win. In fact, the argument could quite easily be made that one of the best teams did not even win. If the casual soccer fan were to look up and down the Portugal roster, they’re likely to encounter the names of three or four players that they actually know. Granted, notoriety and skill are not necessarily mutual compatible, and individual skills certainly do not equal team skill. However, I think few people who follow soccer closely could construct a coherent argument attesting to the deservedness of a Portuguese team who won every game well, ugly.
Granted, there is another side of the coin as well. Portugal was a hardworking, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of team. As an American and a fan of the U.S. national team, you have to respect that. They played no-nonsense soccer. They didn’t care if it was pretty or got them on SC Top 10. They cared about one thing only: winning. The epitome of their character was best reflected by their coach more than by their star player, a man who openly admitted that they maybe don’t play the best soccer. He also essentially said in a white European man’s way that he had his hater blockers on and really didn’t care whether the media thought he deserved to win or not. You also have to respect that. Additionally, after consistently being touted as “pretty good” and runner-up worthy and repeatedly almost winning, maybe karma was rightfully on their side, especially after they lost the final to Greece in 2004.
Contrarily, this is Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Say what you will about the man, but it’s hard to argue that winning is all he cares about. He cares about glory. He cares about perfectly-styled faux hawks. He cares about taking models to Ibiza in his yachts. He cares about image. He’s a tremendous athlete and soccer player and to negate the contributions he’s made to the game would be naïve; but he isn’t reflective of the attitude of the rest of his team. Perhaps this is why the team was better able to band together after he went off the field with his injury. They no longer suffered from an identity crisis.
Also, as a Barcelona and Spanish national team fan I feel as though I must disclaim that there is something to be said about how you win, about how you play the game. It’s called the beautiful game for a reason, and Spain and Barcelona’s tiki-taka style of play was so dominant for so long largely because it worked; and it was beautiful. It was magnificent and fun to watch. Yet one look at World Cup 2014 and it becomes quite easy to see that soccer, like everything in life, is susceptible to consistent metamorphoses.
In fact, sports is littered with examples of the “undeserving” or the “wrong” team winning. It just seems so much more conveniently justifiable when you’re on the right side of that equation. Think Team USA’s Miracle on Ice in the 1980 Olympics. Think Cavs fans after the finals this year. Think of that last guy on the bench who still manages to get a ring and a fat paycheck for winning the championship when in actuality he did exactly what you and I did throughout the entire series: absolutely nothing.
Sports, like life, aren’t fair. The correct team doesn’t always win, and the most talented team is certainly not always the beneficiary of their own prowess. Besides, there is something inherently respectable about a less-talented team who bands together and beats an overpaid group of pretty boys. That’s why coaches always say that they would take hard work over talent any day. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you play the game. What matters is that you win. It might not be pretty, but it if works, who cares? In this tale of palpable irony, the only one who cares whether or not it’s pretty may be none other than your own captain.