So what kind of final can we expect Sunday at EstÃ¡dio do MaracanÃ£ in Rio de Janeiro? If recent history is any indication, something strange and compelling will occur. Something wholly unexpected, and perhaps wretched, for the biggest stars in a moment of unrelieved pressure.
There was Roberto Baggio of Italy, ballooning his penalty kick in the 1994 final and dropping his head like the blade of a guillotine. And Ronaldo of Brazil having some sort of panic attack or seizure before the 1998 final. And Zinedine Zidane head-butting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 final, diminishing France’s chances against Italy and his own lofty reputation.
Perhaps Sunday’s hero will be a quiet player who brings loud celebration, as AndrÃ©s Iniesta did with his extra-time goal to give the World Cup to Spain in 2010. Or a lesser-known player like Sergio Romero, the Argentine goalkeeper, who struggled for playing time at Monaco in the French league but saved two penalties against the Netherlands, kissing his gloves and pounding his chest.