We watched with joy and amazement, along with billions of others last Sunday as Argentina clobbered France for most of the match, that instantly was crowned the “greatest” (men’s) World Cup final. And if that’s plausible – “greatest” – it’s also an almost perfect vehicle for making our point about commercial success in the U.S. being contingent on changing the rules about the way tied games end. A very frequent occurrence “Picture yourself in a boat on a river” watching the purportedly greatest NBA final 7th game or NCAA Men’s Final – say 1957 – Boston 125 St. Louis (Hawks) 123 in double overtime, or the same year North Carolina 54 Kansas 53 in triple overtime.
And instead of those games ending with the team that scored more points playing full-tilt full court basketball, the games had ended in a free-throw contest among four designated shooters from each team?
Or imagine watching the purportedly greatest NFL Championship game – 1958, Colts 23 Giants 17 ending instead of on Alan Ameche’s one-yard plunge with 6:45 left in sudden-death overtime – with a placekicker shootout – kicking defended placekicks of designated or increasing distance until one missed and the other didn’t – as in a high-jump contest.
Sunday’s World Cup ending was even worse than these concocted basketball/American football nightmares. Because it culminated a great game that showcased and accentuated soccer’s other weaknesses as a commercial (not participatory) endeavor.
First, as we stated upfront, Argentina kicked the crap out of France for most of the match, but almost lost. All of us have attended and/or participated in other sports where not just the better team but the team that has performed better that day lost. That happens far more frequently in soccer and the losing team has not only played better but much better.
The second flaw spotlighted Sunday and compared invidiously with basketball, American football, hockey, baseball et. al. is that after scoring two or more early goals, the team ahead adopts a far less exciting prevent defense for the rest/most of the match. That strategy, employed by Argentina on Sunday, was thwarted only because of Kylian Mbappé’s extraordinary ability to do something that happens only a few times in a lifetime – with the rest of that time filled with many games of 30 minutes of exciting full-field action and 60 of much less compelling defense.
For the awful ending problem – fatal to real commercial success in the U.S. (the rest of the world either overlooks it or doesn’t care) the solution is not only simple but was also spotlighted Sunday. The greatest World Cup final should have ended 3-2 with Messi’s second goal in overtime. Unlike American football, soccer is not burdened with a sudden-death overtime imbalance where the “receiving” team has a big unearned and unfair advantage.
Let’s see if FIFA, as it continues to battle the IOC for “most corrupt International Sports Governing Body,” can see the necessity of this rule change before the next Men’s World Cup.
That one will be held in 2026 in North America. 10 matches in Mexico, 10 in Canada and the last 40 in 11 U.S. cities. And we hope the very last one in L.A. won’t end in another free-throw shooting contest.