Monday, July 10, 2006

Zidane, Italy and the Rest (World Cup Wrap)

First of all, methinks Marco Materazzi doth protest too much:
It is absolutely not true, I did not call him a terrorist. I'm ignorant. I don't even know what the word means.
Laying it on a little thick, there, Marco. (See here for his 'greatest hits')

That said, Zidane's red card was obviously warranted, completely shocking and fully absurd, no matter what MM said. Zizou played on Italy for five years, for crissake, one would think he was familiar with what some call 'the dark arts of defending.'

I'm still a bit stunned by the whole thing, of course. I had bought in to the fairytale aspect as much as anyone and this was a cold, hard shot of reality. My sporting idealism trumped by the realpolitik for which the Italians are justly famous. (Not meant as disparagement.) My hope is that Zidane will be better remembered for his play in 1998 and 2000 and vs. Spain and especially Brazil in this tournament, but its tough to say - as far as I can tell, there is simply no precedent in sports for this denoument. The closest I can think of is Raffy Palmeiro slinking off in disgrace during the 2005 baseball season following his steroid suspension. And even that is orders of magnitude away.

As for the game, well played to Italy - they were the better team by a bit in the first half, deserving at least a one goal lead. France's penalty was soft, though others have pointed out that between Malouda's two tumbles in the box, he probably deserved to be awarded one spot-kick, so it balanced out. In the second half and extra time, Italy inexplicably returned to dour form, and though they defended with aplomb (Cannavaro and Zambrotta being typically excellent. Speaking of Cannavaro...good work again, FIFA. Is there anything they can't screw up?) the attacking gusto which characterized much of their play was gone.

And I still hate him for his dive vs. Australia, but Fabio Grosso deserves some recogniztion for exceptional clutchness. He didn't even come into the team until Zaccardo was banished for scoring in his own net vs. the US, and since that time, he and Zambrotta have bombed forward like Roberto Carlos and Cafu when they where simply footballers, rather than advertising billboards. Drawing a game winning penalty? check. Scoring a fantastic winner to break the hosts' hearts? check. World Cup winning penlaty? You betcha. Well done, sir.

Final thoughts on the cup? I think the play on the field was not always indicated on the scoreboard. Though few goals were scored, I think that has more to do with poor finishing than overly negative play - only Ukraine - Switzerland and Ukraine - Tunisia really come to mind as poor games (Well, England - Paraguay and England - Ecuador as well, I suppose...) Of the teams that made the knockout phase, there were only 3 or 4 strikers who really had notable cups - Klose and Podolski for Ze Germans, Torres for Spain (Sir Alex, if we have to sell Ronaldo, can we please, please acquire him?) and perhaps Henry. Indeed, some of the more impressive strikers did not make it out of group play: Adebayor and Kader from Togo; Drogba from Cote d'Ivoire; Chun Soo Lee from Korea; Prso of Croatia.

Obviously, too many cards and too much diving, which I think are related. For the American announcers, let's put it this way, during the final there was a crying baby in the bar. And she was both more pleasant on the ears and provided greater insight into the game than did LemonCello Balboa. She sold it well...

As for a positive, it was nice to see aggressive coaching rewarded and timidity punished - England and Brazil, too cowardly to change up a failing system? See ya. Germany and Italy, no longer dour and defensive, finish 1st and 3rd.

And now, back to my life...Update: Or not quite yet...


Icepick said...

Finally, here's someone standing up for Zidane, although I must note that he doesn't stand up for the headbutt itself. Damn, I hate being stuck in a position to root for the French. Damnit, I'm a Repbulican! We're not supposed to do that!

Pooh said...

It's not so much a defense as a football (American) writer using him as a pretext to call all (other) soccer players pussies.

Icepick said...

Nah, I don't think so. Z seems to watch that kind of stuff. If anything, Z is likely to call everyone else a bunch of pussies for not playing Australian Rules Football.