The Finals – Prologue: The Moment Of Moments

Introducing a new series to the site, one that I hope will serve as something of a spiritual sequel to 211 To 1, my effort to provide a running collection of reflections to the qualification for, and Finals of, the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Unlike that last one I intend for this to have a more frequent output, with shorter entries published every month or so, time and attention-span permitting: at the end of the day I want to spend more time writing about football, for all of the reasons I outlined at the end of that last series. Like many of my entries in 211 To 1, I aim for this series to provide a varied perspective on the topic of major international football finals, from the pre-World Cup days, through the growth of the World Cup itself, and onto the inclusion of the Women’s World Cup and the modern day, and maybe even with some glimpses of the future thrown in towards the end. But we’ll start before the start.

When 211 become 1.

It was a spectacle, and in more ways than one. When Gonzalo Montiel rolled the last penalty of the shoot-out to the other side of a despairing Hugo Lloris it was just the final bit of drama, the moment of moments, to a night that had been stuffed with excitement. It was a decider that contained probably the greatest World Cup Final goal ever scored for Argentina’s second, a French comeback deep in normal time that defied the odds, one of the great saves in the history of the sport right at the death and a hat-trick scoring player ending up on the losing side. It was back-and-forth, it was hectic and fraught, it was a game that rarely provided anything other than some of the greatest entertainment that football can provide. It was a showcase of this sport, and how, at the very highest of levels, it has the ability still to be as entrancing as anything.

But if that was the glorious spectacle of football’s most important game of a four year cycle delivering, then a much more tawdry spectacle was there also, in the hosts and in all of the ways in which they fundamentally failed. No amount of fireworks, packed stands and smiling Emirs could take away from what we had all seen of Qatar and in that there was also some appropriateness, as a representation for how football has changed down the years, to the point that astronomical expenditure of money without resort to morals or ethics has also become ingrained in the game. There it all was, the history of the modern game in two hours and change: a relentless improvement of on-field standards matched with a relentless disintegration of its romance off of it. The history of our game can be charted in the history of such Finals: in the players that took part, in the kind of game they were able to play and in the way that the sport kept changing around them as they did so.

Even my own personal experience of those Finals that have taken place during my footballing-watching lifetime have all been special or notable in their own way, all contributing to the unfolding history of football in some manner. 1994 introduced the idea of settling it all with penalties, and re-introduced us to Brazil as a footballing power. 1998 swept the rug out from that Brazilian team, in showcasing a new attack-focused European style in the form of France. In 2002 a more cynical Brazilian team struck back, denying a workmanlike Germany what would have been one of their most understated World Cup crowns. 2006 showed me, and all of us I suppose, that 120 minutes of football could be defined not by goals or penalties, but by the split-second reaction of a single man. 2010 did much the same, only this time it was violent action that wasn’t punished, even if the team responsible certainly was by the end. 2014 continued a cycle of Finals marked by cautious football with severe risk-elimination, a game decided by one individual moment of brilliance. 2018 was the paradigm shift, a six goal thriller of superstars vs one of the strongest team dynamics of recent times, with the spice of VAR added into the mix. And there was 2022, a game so overflowing with special moments and drama that it was almost surreal. That was all just the men of course: in the same time period we got a cavalcade of memorable moments from the women, whether it was Brandi Chastain’s iconic celebration at the end of the 1999 shootout, Japan’s fairy-tale conclusion to their 2011 campaign or the rise of the current United States team into the first major international squad of icons in the female game.

All of this is to say that football Finals mean something. It’s more than them being the particular game that formally decides who the winner of the World Cup is, or the best indicator of who the best team in the world is once every four years. Such straight-forward assessment belies the reality. It’s not even that these are massive events, ones that hold the attention of a worldwide audience of billions in a way that very few other human activities can ever come close to claiming. It’s more that they are a crucial aspect of the past, present and future of the game. They are some of the major stopping points in the ever growing history of football as we understand it, from that first codification in the latter half of the 19th century all the way to our current sporting epoch as centred on Doha. When they are played, they are the only thing worth talking about within the footballing community. And they give signs, every time that one takes place, about what the game will look like going forward, even if it will just be for as long as it takes to get to the next one. Football, the people’s game, the world’s game, revolves around the World Cup Final, its highest showpiece and honour. That’s why they mean so much.

Over the course of this series, whose entries, if completed, will stretch well into the 40s I think, we will be taking a look at the Finals. We will start in the pre-World Cup age of the Summer Olympics, progress from there through the inauguration of the World Cup in 1930 all the way up to the modern day, where both the men’s and women’s World Cup Finals will be considered. It is not my intention for each entry to be just a dry recitation of the basic facts of what happened in these games. Instead, I will be attempting to explore these match-ups through other lenses, such as the impact of one particular player on the game and on the sport, the historical context behind certain meetings or how a specific World Cup Final proved a milestone in the evolution of the game. We will focus not just on winners, but on the losers, the hosts, the people who were watching and what they got out of it. By the end, if I am able to complete the project, we will be on the cusp of the 2026 World Cup Finals, where we shall be in a position to add our very last entry.

In the process, I hope to gain for myself, and to impart to others, a greater understanding of the game of football, in how it has changed down the years from those chaotic origins in the late 19th century all the way up the refined sport we know and love, and sometimes hate, today. I aim to learn information and stories I did not before, whether it is about individual players, teams and nations, that will broaden my appreciation for the events that they took part in. And it is my belief that by the time we get to the concluding entry, which I suppose will be the Final of 2026 World Cup, whomever is in it, that my love for football, for the international level and for the World Cup in its ideal form will have grown deeper and greater.

Whether it ends up being something like Emmanuel Petit’s crowning third goal in Paris or Andres Iniesta’s last gasp winner in Johannesburg or Gonzalo Montiel’s sweetly struck penalty in Doha, whatever ends up being the key moment in the next World Cup Final, and Finals, will stick with us forever. It will be the equivalent of Carlos Alberto’s strike in 1970 or the Italian second half blitz in 1982 or Michelle Akers double-scoring heroics in 1991. It will join a long, distinguished, sometimes infamous series of remarkable sporting instances, stretching back to well over a century, that mark the very highest level of footballing competition. That’s what the World Cup Final, and its progenitors, brings us, and what keeps us coming back. The search for such spectacle and understanding is what I hope will drive this series. And we begin right at the very start, in the very prehistoric-esque state of the sport, to discuss a game that might not have ever even taken place. It’s a long way from Athens in 1896 to New York/New Jersey in 2026, but it’s a journey well worth taking, in search of the next moment of moments.

To read the next entry in this series, please click here.

To go to the index, please click here.

Photo Credit

Argentina celebrate their 2022 World Cup victory. Photo by Football Pictures, reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

This entry was posted in Football (All), Sport, The Finals and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Finals – Prologue: The Moment Of Moments

  1. Pingback: The Finals: Index | Never Felt Better

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