With the World Cup finally wrapping up the other day, I find it appropriate to share a few of my thoughts on the much-maligned (in the US, anyway) “beautiful game.”
- The biggest story to come out of Berlin, other than the Italians winning, was French striker Zenedine Zidane stupidly head-butting an Italian player, earning a quick red card and automatic ejection in the overtime periods. Rumor has it that the Italian player said something racist to Zidane (isn’t Zidane white?) while walking up the field, but I can’t imagine what he could have said that would lead Zenedine to blatantly head-butt the guy in the chest. How in the world, on that stage, in the final game of your career, can you lose it so completely that you forget you’re in overtime of the World Cup final, minutes away from going to penalty kicks (at which Zidane excels), and do something that desperately hurts the chances of your team winning. A selfish, disgusting act that one of the greatest players of the last 15 years will always be remembered for. Of course, the game was decided on penalty kicks, Zidane’s absence clearly hurting Les Bleus.
- And speaking of penalty kicks, how in the world can the world’s biggest sporting event, watched by billions of people, and upheld by its fans as the greatest sport in the history of recorded time, be decided by what is essentially a crapshoot? Four years of hard work, four years of blood, sweat and toil; hard-fought matches with players on both sides giving every last ounce of effort they have in the name of their homelands, and it’s decided by penalty kicks? I can’t think of anything more unfair in sports. So what if it takes another hour to decide the game in overtime? At least the final goal will be earned.
- And as far as outrages go: diving, flopping, and more diving–how can a sport so enormously popular continue to put up with this–why do the fans put up with it? How can games be decided because of ridiculously over-the-top dives that result in penalty kicks? Players fly through the air if they even feel a breeze from another player, hitting the ground whilst shrieking in mock agony until the ref blows a whistle. I think one of the big reasons the sport hasn’t gained widespread popularity in the States is because crap like this still goes on. I saw at least two games decided by a penalty kick that resulted from blatant dives, the Italy-Australia game most notably. Blech.
- The US team disappoints again. What was supposed to be the best US World Cup team in history again failed on the global stage, earning themselves an opening round exit. They were in the so-called “Group of Death” with Italy, the Czech Republic, and lowly Ghana (the same “lowly” Ghana who managed to eliminate the US from the tournament), but that’s no excuse for the lack of effort I saw on the field at times. Nevermind Bruce Arena’s horrible decisionmaking as head coach/manager/whatever they call themselves. The team never got into a groove and was clearly tentative to take the attack to the opposing team. Switching up the formation (Arena relied on a 5-4-1) to emphasize the Americans offensive ability could have made a world of difference. But I guess we’ll never know.
- All the negatives notwithstanding, there was a lot of good football in this year’s World Cup. I particularly enjoyed watching the German team, coached by my hero Juergen Klinsmann. I think much of that respect comes from the fact that they dove, perhaps, far less often than any other team. (See how little it takes to gain my admiration?) I’m hoping the US Soccer can do enough to pry Klinsmann out of Deutschland and hire him as their next head coach, lest we end the 2010 World Cup with a loss to West Jahunga in the opening round.
- Brazil will always have a special place in my heart:
- As far as the Italians, they’ll at least be known for something other than their deodorant phobia for the next year or so. Congratulations to the Azzurri, they earned a victory despite being outplayed by France for most of the final. Penalty kicks, penalty kicks, penalty kicks. Somewhere, Roberto Baggio is smiling (if he wasn’t already killed by Italian fans after his brutal penalty kick miss a few years ago. Yeah, that’s right, you can get killed by your fans if you eff up on the field. Ask the Colombian player who was killed by fans after scoring an own-goal a few World Cups ago.) World Cup fever! Catch it!