FORZA AZZURRI! Au revoir, Zidane.

As I predicted (“…I’m picking… Italy…”), the Azzurri won the whole shebang. I was thrilled to see them win, but truth be told it was an ugly game. It had everything that was bad about soccer: dives, bad calls, make-up calls, taunting, head-butting, exhaustion, and a dreaded penalty shootout—in short, it was the most exciting World Cup Final in at least 20 years.

As glad as I am that Italy won, I’m even more relieved that France did not win the world championship of soccer—a sport already notorious for too much diving—by scoring a PK resulting from a dive. I think Italy got more than a few make-up calls out of that bad call; in the 2nd half it looked like there was a clear penalty against Italy, but it wasn’t called. Fair’s fair and unfair’s unfair.

Although the Italians looked totally exhausted in the second half and extra time, I thought they had more good shots on goal than the French. I can think of only two truly threatening shots by the French; I can also think of two by the Italians plus a Luca Toni goal that was negated for being offside. As exhausted as Italy clearly was, France didn’t do anything about it.

Zidane head-butting Materazzi was almost inexplicable. I say “almost” because Materazzi is known for being an especially dirty player, and probably said something unkind and provocative about France, Algeria, Zidane’s wife, Zidane’s mother, Islam, politics, the weather, or some sordid combination of all seven. But “explicable” does not equate to “excusable”—what the hell was he thinking?

Zinedine Zidane is a great player. I don’t think he was the best European player of the last 50 years, as claimed by a UEFA internet survey, but if you said 20 years I wouldn’t argue much. The World Cup Final was his swan-song game, it was the most-watched and most-televised sporting event in the world, there were cameras everywhere, and with ten minutes left in extra time he had a great chance at winning his second World Cup, capping a glorious career and an amazing comeback from retirement…

…and then he goes insane. Loses it at the worst possible moment, puts France down a man for the last ten minutes, giving Italy a desperately-needed respite, costs France their best penalty-taker if it should go into penalty kicks, and humiliates himself.

That Zidane still received the Golden Ball (most outstanding player) is a little bit embarrassing. In addition to his brief bout of insanity against Italy, he was also suspended for the third game of the first round—a must-win for France. As much as he did for his team, he also hurt them when they needed him most—and not through failure or mistake, but through ill temper. Zidane’s disgrace was the worst way anybody’s sporting career has ever ended (Joe Theismann might disagree).

Unfortunately, the championship was decided in a penalty shootout. I hate the shootouts. As exciting as they are, they often make the rest of the game boring. If one team is totally outmatched, say they have a 10% chance of winning, then they have an incentive to play a boring, totally defensive game in hopes of getting to the shootout, which is essentially 50-50. FIFA needs to find a better way to end the games, like the obvious one: playing until someone scores. I hate seeing the World Cup awarded on the competitive equivalent of a coin flip.

Anyhow, I thought this World Cup was exciting in spite of having the second-lowest goal average ever (2.3 per game). The final was dramatic: Henry’s near-concussion, the dive leading to the PK, Zidane’s crafty penalty shot almost bouncing in-bounds, the swift Italian reprisal and Materazzi’s goal, the close calls and point-blank shots, Toni’s goal called back, Italy’s exhaustion and desperation in extra-time, FOX’s “When Zidane Attacks,” Trezuget’s hitting the crossbar and Grosso’s scoring the clinching penalty.

Italy’s victory made up for years of near-misses and excruciating World Cup defeats; the unjust penalty-shootout loss to Argentina in the 1990 semifinal, the just penalty-shootout loss to Brazil in the 1994 final, the what-can-you-do penalty shootout loss to France in the 1998 quarterfinal, and the ridiculously unjust extra-time loss to South Korea in the 2002 Round of Sixteen. Finally seeing the Italians raise the Jules Rimet trophy was awesome, the second-best way any World Cup could end. Hopefully the United States will do the same in my lifetime.

2 Responses to “FORZA AZZURRI! Au revoir, Zidane.”

  1. Jean Valjean Says:
    July 12th, 2006 at 11:14 AM

While totally off topic, I figured it’d still be relevant. Are you aware you have a myspace club devoted to you?

  1. aabrock Says:
    July 13th, 2006 at 9:56 AM

Had to pass this one along…