Monday, July 10, 2006

Final Thoughts on the Final

Obviously Zidane did something that not too many of us have ever seen before. It terms of shock, I think only Catona's flying kick attack delivered to the chest of a fan is anywhere close. And that was in a game with much, much smaller stakes, and it also came from a guy with a long history of being borderline crazy.

Lost in all of that, I'm afraid is that Zidane was having another great match right up to that point. His penalty kick was one of the cheekiest manuevers I've ever seen. Who chips a penalty kick? I don't think I had ever seen that before, either. His smashing header almost put France on the podium. It was an absolute rip, and I'm still unsure how Buffon managed to play that well throughout the Cup. He had a marvelous performance all tournament, and the Final was no exception.

I think we all knew it was going to be a low scoring game, even if the first 20 minutes suggested that it would not. I'm just happy it wasn't 0-0, so all the bloviating American dickbags who feel qualified to discuss the sport because they played American football (or just write about American football) can stop complaining about the prevalence of 0-0 draws in the Final Game. (By the by--the 0-0 draw in the Final? Only happened once--it just so happened to be the one played in the US, back in 1994)

There will also be some talk among the bloviators about how Penalty Kicks are a stupid way to decide a final game. And they are almost right, but not really. Here's why they are wrong.

Soccer is played on a large field, with no more than 14 guys being used, in total . They play, if extra is reached for 120 minutes, with a 15 minute halftime, and just a few minutes here and there for other stoppages. Yes, they take mini breaks here and there on the pitch--but essentially, they are working incredibly hard for 120 minutes. You can make them play forever, but the chance of any team getting a goal as fatigue sets in becomes less and less likely. Really, if no one scores after 120 minutes, and you keep on playing, it becomes as much of a crapshoot as Penalty Kicks, and possibly more than one. The folks who complain about soccer's silly way of ending a game often complain (ala The Weekly Standard) that soccer doesn't have moments where the entire team is counting on a one-on-one matchup--that soccer is game for people who shun the responsibility of the spotlight. Tell that to David Trezeguet. The same folks who complain seem to have no problem with the ridiculousness of an NFL sudden death overtime game, which takes that game and basically turns into a coin toss. Penalty kicks are not the ideal way to decide a game, clearly, but soccer would need to change the rules to make anything more palatable (one suggestion--increase the number of substitutions--add 2 more at the start of extra time, for example).

So, the Zidane headbutt. I'm still unsure of what to think. I mean, yes, incredibly stupid, and borderline horrifically violent, though I have to agree with Will at Deadspin that it was an undeniably cool moment as well. We will be talking about it for years to come, and that makes it cool. What did that Italian dude say to Zidane? Best guess is that was something extremely, extremely racist.

The Italians are known--both their fan base, and some of their players (NOTE: I am not saying Materazzi is one of those players) for having proudly taunted black players on the pitch (Lazio--Mussolini's old favorite club-- being one of the most infamous places for anyone with dark skin to enter). Zidane is of Algerian extraction, and I simply can't think of anything else that would make him that angry. It was clearly just words that set him off. He has a temper, to be sure, and I've seen him do rash things, but it was almost always in the context of violence being done to him. Zidane has been one of the best players in the world for 10 years or more, and I'm sure he's had a lot of shit whispered in his ear before. I'm speculating, but this must of been particularly bad.

You can't excuse Zidane, at least, not officially. But I have a very 'wait and see' attitude towards how I'm going to end up feeling about this incident.

Italy played the way Italy plays. They flopped when they could, played tough defense (led by the oddly charismatic Cannavaro) and scored opportunistically. Was it pretty? Not most of the time. They remain a very disciplined team on defense, a rather whiny team on offense that I think could have acheived this result in much more compelling fashion, if they would just let their talent out. I have a much larger respect coming out of this game for France, who I didn't pick to go far, played better than I thought they would, and showed moments of exhilarating beauty, and really dominated the extra sessions until Zidane's departure. We will be talking about their younger players a lot come Euro 2008.

Anyway, I'm ready for another World Cup. Let's just them up and go again.

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