The German sports weekly, Kicker, captioned this photo “The Artist and his plaything”—or something like that (Der Künstler und seine Spielobjekt); my German is still not that great. But there is no question of Leo Messi’s greatness. As Kicker explained, the name Messi has become a superlative itself—the global equivalent to what names such as Michael, Gretzky, and Tiger, have meant to North American sports in recent decades. At this point—and he’s still only 24 years old—a World Cup championship is the only thing missing from his case to be considered the greatest soccer player of all time. To be sure, if Messi were to lift that cup with his Argentina teammates in 2014, at the Maracana in Rio of all places, and with the Brazilian icon Pele in attendance, it would be perhaps the most striking moment the sport has ever seen. (See, it’s impossible to talk about Messi without resorting to superlatives.) With his historic five-goal performance in the UEFA Champions League earlier this week, Messi has transcended the sports pages. He has even been described as “one of Argentina’s best exports ever.” (More superlatives.) So much for soybeans.
The authorities think progress is demolishing our community just so they can host the Olympics for a few weeks,” said Cenira dos Santos, 44, who owns a home in the settlement, which is known as Vila Autódromo. “But we’ve shocked them by resisting.
Soccer is one of my passions, although I don’t often write about it here. I wasn’t planning to either, but I ran across the freeze-frame above of Alex Morgan setting up what would be the third goal in the USA’s 3-1 victory over France in the World Cup semifinal. Besides the fact that Morgan hails from my hometown of Diamond Bar, California, and is also a Cal Golden Bear, I love this shot because it captures in an instant what makes this sport so beautifully challenging.
So let’s play soccer coach for a moment. You’re the striker, what do you do?
A: cut to your right to get a better angle on goal, but this takes you into the path of the trailing defenders and the best you can probably hope for is an awkward challenge and a penalty;
B: shoot early and try to swerve one to the far post before the keeper cuts down the angle any further, but that requires an awful lot of body control to get your hips turned enough while running at pace and then a skilled touch to get enough bend on the ball; or
C: take another touch or two and continue running toward the end line, but with each step the keeper gets closer and the angle gets narrower.
This illustrates just how difficult this sport is. Even on an almost-breakaway, the kind of scoring opportunity forwards dream about, there is no easy option. Morgan, without the benefit of freeze-frame, chose “C” instinctually and then recognized that the keeper had stood her ground so there wouldn’t be space to get around her and still shoot on goal. She could have then tried to shoot a low hard shot at the near post, but that almost certainly would have been saved or gone into the side nettting—the outcome of probably 90% of such chances. Instead, Morgan had both the skill and composure to deftly chip over the top after the keeper had already committed to getting low.
This was a true forward’s goal. There have been some great strikes in this tournament, particularly from distance, but I’m not sure there’s been a higher-quality finish. Well done, Alex! And well done, USA!!!