Angela Merkel (Germany) vs. Vladimir Putin (Russia)
And so it came to pass that the second annual FP March Madness Democrats vs. Dictators Tournament of Champions has ended with a final showdown between Germany's Iron Chancellor and Russia's pugilistic prime-minister and president-elect.
Along the way, many loyal readers and disgruntled bracketologists have asked us: just where exactly do these games take place? Well, it all began a few weeks ago at "The Reaping" when 32 world leaders were selected by lottery, paraded through the streets of The Hague on horse-drawn chariots dressed in all their finery, then forced to enter the arena to compete in a deadly competition of endurance, strength, and cunning, all managed from afar by the cruel and capricious gamemasters at Foreign Policy magazine.
There were some unexpected twists along the way, including the last-minute benching of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Benjamin Netanyahu's upset of Barack Obama, and newcomer Kim Jong Un's impressive run to the final four. But in the end it came down to two global powerhouses.
Putin is making his second consecutive appearance in the finals, and after last year's incident, he was careful to leave outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev under lock-and-key back in Moscow. "I am from Leningrad," Putin remarked to reporters before the match began, drawing an obvious historical analogy. "We do not surrender."
As is her style, Merkel was a bit more subdued, telling a supporter that she was simply glad "not to have to deal with Nicolas for a few days."
After winning the coin flip, Merkel chose the event and venue for the first challenge: A penalty kick shootout at the Stadion der Freundschaft, home field of East Germany's most distinguished football club FC Energie Cottbus, of which she is an honorary member.
With Putin's small frame in goal, the chancellor acquitted herself well in front of the hometown crowd, sending three of her five kicks sailing over the Russian's head. However, the visitor had a trick up his sleeve. Relying on some old associates from his days as a KGB agent in East Germany, Putin had his balls outfitted with a special remote-controlled gyroscrope, causing them to veer sharply away from Merkel's outstretched hands at the last moment. He scored 5 out of 5, easily taking the challenge amid a chorus of boos.
For the second event, Putin played host on the snow-driven Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East. Once again taking advantage of Merkel's well-known cynophobia, the Russian leader challenged her to a dog-sled race. Putin left the jittery German in the dust and quickly built up such a lead that he was able to stop for a bit of hunting along the way. After bagging a Kamchatka brown bear, three ermines, a bighorn sheep, several rare Stellar's sea eagles and an orca (all with his trusty harpoon, of course), the overconfident Putin returned to the race only to find that Merkel, who had overcome her fear and fed her Siberian huskies a peculiar cocktail of Red Bull and Lowenbrau, had overtaken him. The second round went to Merkel.
The final tiebreaker took place at a neutral location: 49° 56' 49" W, 41° 43' 57" N. Yes, you guessed it sports fans: THE FINAL RESTING PLACE OF THE TITANIC!
With guest judge James Cameron supervising (and live tweeting) from the surface, the two leaders piloted small submersibles down to the wreckage of the bow section for a torpedo and robotic claw battle within the ship's interior. It was clear from the start that Merkel's high-tech unterseeboot was the superior craft, outmaneuvering Putin's leaky lodka through the decaying ocean liner's once-sumptuous banquet halls.
Merkel finally cornered Putin in the engine room and lined up a clear shot for a torpedo. Seconds passed as she pounded on the red button. Nothing. Frustrated, she looked closer at the small text on her craft's launching mechanism, which read: "Realizzato in Italia."
"Sabotage!" Merkel cried as Putin launched his torpedo, crippling her craft's steering system and forcing her emergency ascent to the surface. Not yet satisfied with his performance, Putin climbed out of his craft and swam up 13,000 feet, clutching Kate Winslet's necklace -- which he had just happened to come across while he was down there -- in his triumphant fist.
As his theme music blasted from the decks of the remarkably phallic aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, Putin was crowned 2012 World Leader March Madness champion by the editors of FP and vowed to retain the title for at least the next decade, regardless of the results of future contests. Putin wins.
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Thanks everyone for reading and playing along. Congratulations also to Josiah Bragg, Juri Schnoeller, and Tim C., who tied for first place in our reader contest with the Putinesque score of 49. The top ten scorers will be receiving free one-year subscriptions to FP. See you next year!