Unlike the marathon nature of the club season, the World Cup is a sprint to the finish – it just so happens that it also consists of seven hurdles in rapid succession that get just a little taller one after the next.
Such a harsh tough schedule in terms of both who you have to play against and the frequency in which you play, coupled with the traveling, is something that is familiar to most players who have been taking part in the proceedings in Brazil this summer. So many of them play for top clubs in Europe, where at any given time you could have two crucial domestic fixtures against your rivals, with a Champions League match sandwiched in between.
Unlike the club campaigns however, where a slow start to your season can still be rectified or where a mid-season loss of form will not doom you to failure, at the World Cup, any mistake can and often does prove to be catastrophic. Stumbling at the first hurdle in the group stage more often than not puts an end to your summer before it began (refer to Portugal for a prime example), and any mistake in the knockout stage can send you home packing. Much like hurdles at the Olympics, the World Cup will punish you if you are not as close to perfect as humanly possible.
For the four remaining teams left, each and every one of them as a different background story, their own individual pressures and their separate set of expectations. Despite the many story lines that have come to the fore this summer, it’s almost rather fitting that it has come down to the quartet of Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands.
The host nation seeking a record 6th World Cup, and able to do it in front of their home support. Germany, so feared and respected as being routinely the best side in Europe, have not won a major tournament since Euro ’96. Argentina, on the back of the world’s best player in Lionel Messi, are looking to add to the legacy created by Diego Maradona. And the Netherlands, without question the best team to have never lifted the trophy, are finally seeking to be apart of an elite cadre of teams to have done so.
Each player and each team brings with him the weight of personal expectation, but they are also saddled with the burden of carrying expectations of an entire nation on their shoulders. Who will lift the trophy come July 13th at the hallowed ground of the Estadio do Maracana?