AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Sixteen years of disappointment, heartbreak and anticlimax led to this moment. For every commercial featuring Brandi Chastain, the weight of the world pushing her to the ground at the very moment it lifted, there was a rumble about Abby Wambach’s training regimen, Carli Lloyd’s inconsistency or Hope Solo’s extracurricular activities. Not having won a World Cup since 1999, despite a trio of Olympic gold medals, wore on this team. They grew tired of heeding to the Germanys and Japans of the world in its most important tournament, and a shaky start did not bode well for the Americans.
When they needed to get it together in a time of dire need, however, where they so often had misstepped on the biggest stage, the U.S. women delivered a barrage of cannonading blows, exorcising demons and returning their country to a once and present glory.
On Thursday, the 2014 FIFA World Cup begins in Brazil. While many eyes will be on the home team, which is the nominal favorite to capture its record-extending sixth World Cup title, thirty-one other teams will be vying to bring the glory of the beautiful game’s most hallowed prize to their homelands. Many of these sides have legendary players in various stages of their primes. Some seem simply to be along for the experience of playing on a senior international level as a sort of deposit for the future (See: Green, Julian). For all the acclaim of Brazil’s joga bonito, Italy’s azzurri and Die Mannschaft of Germany, two individual players are carrying the weight of their countries perhaps more heavily than anyone else, with the outcome of the tournament potentially dictating their places among the game’s all-time greatest.
I am, of course, talking about Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi.