An ode to Lionel Messi, the best footballer in the world.
Messi simply does things — little things and big things — that other players here cannot do. He gets a ball in traffic, is surrounded by two or three defenders, and he somehow keeps the ball close even as they jostle him and kick at the ball. He takes long and hard passes up around his eyes and somehow makes the ball drop softly to his feet, like Keanu Reeves making the bullets fall in “The Matrix.” He cuts in and out of traffic — Barry Sanders only with a soccer ball moving with him — sprints through openings that seem only theoretical, races around and between defenders who really are running even if it only looks like they are standing still. He really does seem to make the ball disappear and reappear, like it’s a Vegas act.
I’ve watched just enough soccer to realize that despite having scored no goals and having, by FIFA’s reckoning, only a single assist, Messi is having a great World Cup. He attracts so much attention on the pitch — two or three defenders swarmed him on every touch in the Mexico game — that he should get an assist on nearly every play for opening up the rest of the field for his team. It’s one of those things that the new soccer fan (as many Americans are) doesn’t catch onto right away. (thx, djacobs)