The FIFA World Cup is quickly moving to its knockout rounds as the world’s largest and most popular sporting event is really heating up. The U.S. game against Portugal on Sunday was the highest rated soccer game ever on ESPN and interest in “The Beautiful Game” is at an all-time high in this country it seems.
Basketball, of course, follows soccer very carefully. From media types like Marc Stein to players like Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant follow soccer pretty closely. When you watch the two sports, you see a lot of similarities — the precision, the cutting and off-ball movement and teamwork necessary to win. It is easy to fall in love with soccer if you love basketball.
And many of the characters feel really familiar too. Uncannily familiar.
Who are these soccer stars to you NBA fans? Let me try to explain. . .
If you watched that U.S.-Portugal game last weekend, you heard the broadcasters talk nonstop about Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The Ballon D’Or winner for 2013 has not been healthy this World Cup, but his impact on the game was undeniable. His beautiful cross on the final kick of the game led to Portugal’s equalizing goal made it all worth it despite a struggle throughout the game to break free of the U.S. defense.
Ronaldo has a bit of a “pretty boy” attitude. He has found a lot of success at his club team, Real Madrid, and has racked up awards and gaudy statistics — 51 goals in 47 games including 31 goals in 30 La Liga games in Spain. Yet, at the World Cup, Ronaldo has often wilted under the pressure.
Carmelo Anthony has long put up gaudy numbers in the NBA. His scoring prowess has made him one of the top players in the league. But when it comes to Playoff success, there is not much to say about him. He has been out of the first round just twice. It looks like he is going to be shopping around as a free agent.
The two play very similarly. Stats look gaudy. But the fingers are bear of rings — well Ronaldo has won the Champions League and La Liga several times.
Lionel Messi is LeBron James
I mean, did you see this:
Those are Messi’s first four goals in the World Cup. But he was long considered the best player in the world before then. He just could not do it on the biggest stage in the world.
Messi’s brilliance has inspired everyone around the sports world to stare in amazement. His mere presence impacts defenses and he is as adept dishing the ball as he is scoring it. He is the LeBron James of soccer in almost every way.
Messi is a dominant figure haunted by his inability to win the big game at the International level. He joined a super team in FC Barcelona and won his championships there. Just like LeBron James.
And no one disputes Messi is the best player in the world either.
Diego Forlan is Dirk Nowitzki
I mean . . . have you ever seen them in the same room together?
Both players are also skilled marksmen from long range too. They are not just separated at birth.
Neymar is Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving is one of the great young stars in the NBA with a killer crossover and dribbling skills and a deadly jumper. He is one of the great all-around players and everyone is excited to see him burst through and finally make the Playoffs.
Neymar took the world by storm and quickly became one of the best young players in the world. He is a wizard with his feet and continuing to grow as an all-around player.
Like Kyrie Irving, Neymar has made his name known even more on the biggest stages with all the international stars present. Irving made his presence known at the 2013 All-Star Game and again in 2014. He has shown up the last three years with all the stars present. Neymar leads the World Cup in goals so far this year.
And the sky is the limit for him.
What FIFA players remind you of NBA players?