1. Zinedine Zidane. What more can be said? Though he wasn't nearly as good against Portugal as he was against Spain or especially Brazil, the word used to describe his performances that I like best is 'magesterial'. He seems to be presiding over these games, rather than simply playing in them. My favorite things about him are the subtle ones. During the final watch him when he receives a pass - he almost never, ever comes to a complete stop. There is always a small, almost imperceptible change in foot positioning or the direction the ball is rolling, but that small change creates passing angles and dribbling lanes not available to the more literal player.
2. The Italians. Good on them, I suppose. I still hate them and their floppy haired, diving, prima donna BS. That said, it's hard to say that they haven't been the better team in every one of their knockout games. Despite the egregious dive, they probably shaded the Aussies (and Materazzi's red card was ludicrous anyway). Even though 3-0 was a ridiculous scoreline given the long periods of Ukranian (WEAK!) dominance in the second half, hard to say the win was undeserved. And, having watched the game for a third time, despite the bias encouraged by the crowd noise, they slightly outplayed the Germans. This squad manages to encapsulate what is both maddening and magical about Italian soccer: corruption and theatricality balanced against unflappably elegant defending and skillful, economical bursts of attacking verve.
3. Ze Germans. Far exceeded expectations. For me, Klose was one of the revelations of the tournament - he was one of my least favorite players of the 2002 WC (the classic teutonic 'head-in-goals vs. crappy teams' strike), but his total game has been elevated several levels. His set up play for Podolski's second goal vs. Sweden was awesome. And on a team wide level, the Germans played like the English think they should - power, pace and passion. If Beckham, Gerard and Lampard did as much running as Frings, Kehl and Schneider, England would probably have beaten Portugal. Just saying.
4. Portugal. Screw the lot of you. Except you Cristiano. Old Trafford surely welcomes you back. Right? Please?
5. The Announcers. JP Dellacamera and John Harkes have actually done pretty well - Dellacamera is experienced at doing soccer, and has a much better voice than does "Baseball" Dave O'Brien (who can't help himself from throwing the Uecker into some of the latin sounding names FABio CannaVARo. I look up at the TV and expect to see El CaBALlo rounding third after parking one...) Harkes has been concise and, when needed, opinionated. Contrast that to LemonCello:
Balboa is unbelieveable. He'll criticize someone for diving and, in the next breath, complement someone the same conduct as a "smart play." Next time, they should give [me] a six pack and let [me] start rambling. It would undoubtedly be more coherent.Must. Learn. Better. Spanish. by 2010.
6. England. Typical of course. What is it about the English that produces players with the bizarre combination of world class talent and absolutely psychotic temperment, be it Gazza, Beckham or young Roonaldo? (And for a further query, why do the two seem inversely related within those players? As Becks has matured, his game has suffered. From 1998 - 2000 when he was still in "F You" mode he was the best midfielder in the world. Then he became captain and all responsible, and he became the soccer equivalent of Steve Kerr, a
7. As for the final, which Italy shows up? My money is on a reversion to dour, cynical form. Zidane will be kicked mercilessly. However, Thuram and Gallas will crush Toni and Totti like worms, and France will have too much of the game, and win 1-0 on a Viera goal, perhaps 2-0 with a late Henry breakaway.