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Italy vs. France (Final)

I sit up and write this morning knowing it will be the last time I'll be up at dawn to talk about football for another four years. My heart wants to cry for France. I feel so much as though something, somewhere, was robbed. But I watch the Italian boys petting their trophy in anticipation, having a party on the field, being happy, and I think, well, they deserved it. They did deserve it. And yet for all who would spoil for a fight about good sportsmanship, I think this was a fight that ultimately upheld that ideal.

I made a lot of notes about this game. I wanted to say so much. I lost all my words when Zidane was thrown off the field. He is a commanding figure, this Zidane. He came out of retirement to lead his team to rally his team into the World Cup. It is said that it was he who inspired Makelele out of retirement as well, whom we saw openly weeping on the field at the end. This is the man, who in this match, pops an arm during a leap, sits down calmly and calls for medics with as much dignity. My enduring memory of him in this game was watching him walk off the field, get his anesthetic, and walk back in to lead. Zidane, who represents so much elegance, so much brilliance at his game, to have him go out this way isn't merely scandalous -- it's crushing. We know that there was an altercation between Zidane and Materazzi shortly after the two were involved in a block. There was a harsh exchange of words. Zidane headbutted Materazzi - a reaction that would be distinctly out of character, but something he was still guilty of. Buffon, being among the closest witnesses, came out of his goal to offer his view. The referee did the right thing -- he red carded Zidane out of the game.

We will not really know what words were exchanged. We probably won't know till later tomorrow. We may never know what was said at all. Zidane's wiki, for the curious, was vandalized within minutes after the match. People are harsh. Zidane does not deserve to go down this way, but neither does anyone else.

The game did not go wrong just because Zidane left the field. He's a great man, but let's get something straight: the French were a magnificent team. They rallied, they pushed forward, they attacked to the last minute. The Italian defense was equally great. Indeed, for the entirety of this game, both teams were pretty evenly matched. The French excelled at crafty legwork, making good of whatever cracks they found. They were willing to keep the ball in play by whatever means possible, and I think as far as gameplay goes, were also the better coordinated team. The Italians made up for it with that impregnable fortress. They were quick to regroup and even faster to swarm. They defended like hell. It was a game both sides could be proud of. Perhaps the only flaw in the match was that neither team was really able to strike out for a goal in time to avoid a shootout.

It wasn't all about suspicious sportsmanship either. Gatusso, a hard worker and even harder hit-taker, a player I've admired before, has a mutual run-in with Malouda in the second set of extra time. They helped each other up and walk off smiling. Shortly after Zidane was carded out, Buffon reached out to embrace him. Who knows what kindnesses were exchanged. Del Piero does an unexplained flop onto the floor after a hard tackle. Sagnol picks him up, play on, play on. Shortly before the shootout, Buffon and Barthez share a beautiful embrace.

Interesting that while Buffon and Barthez are both brilliant goalkeepers in their own right, the penalty shootout ultimately didn't rely on either of their skills to a large degree. It's one of those mystifying random chances that have worked in this match, one of those things that makes the World Cup great because it allows for human error. Buffon was decked out in gold for this match. He did great saves, and was the goalie with more work here. The flying leap against Zidane's free kick and again for the beautiful Sagnol-Zidane pass were both magnificent pieces of goalkeeping.

As for the award ceremony, I laughed when I saw the happy Italians. They were happy as children on the field, as they well deserved to be. Perhaps this win will silence the critics who have hounded them this World Cup about football scandals back home. Their excitement was infectious. It's of course sad to realize that one great team had to go down for this to happen, and Zidane's absence for the runner-up medal was telling, but again, this is a game of winners and losers. I wonder what shape the Italian celebrations in their home country has taken?

Footnote 1: The lowest point of sportsmanship in this game for me wasn't even part of the match. SBS commentator jock hits out, after a hiatus, during the awards ceremony as Italian players converged on their hard-earned trophy to comment on how Brazil won the trophy and promptly got it stolen. Not like it had any relation to events unfolding on screen, or even in any appropriate timeline. (Brazil had their trophy stolen in 1984 when it was put up for display in Rio de Janeiro.) SBS jock bunnies then continue on about Italy's defeat of Australia in the World Cup and how Australia "fought gallantly" in 2006. Being neither relevant to the discussion or the match, I thought this was low.

Footnote 2: During Zidane's bit of injury time, Cannavaro (responsible for leaping into Zidane's shoulder) stops over for a visit with a water bottle. The referee rips the bottle out of Cannavaro's hands and hangs onto it for drinks. Made me laugh.

Footnote 3: Second half of normal time, the SBS commentator jock has a line about Zidane, "still having a run in him." Dude's 34, man. He's not geriatric. It might be old in soccer years, but Zidane can't just run, he can still run circles and figure eights around the kids.

Footnote 4: Ribery takes a shot at the goal in the second half of normal time. Ribery's a great guy, a real scrapper. The goal runs high. Buffon gives up on it, but in the background, one of the ball coolies can be seen leaping into the air with style for the same thing. One of those cool camera moments.



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 10th, 2006 12:47 am (UTC)
i thought the french team didn't play as well as the italians. they seemed to have a lot of miscommunication going on because their passes weren't smooth at all. you could see the frustration of getting in the box and then having no one to assist.
henry had a great chance to score but no one was there to assist him D: i think when ribery makes his next world cup apperance he will be a very important and respected figure. the univision commentators said he could be the next zidane for the french team.
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:27 am (UTC)
The French were definitely fudging passes. The missing Henry shots were prominent in the second half, and I remember those because it was Ribery who did the hard work carrying the ball. I can't believe they replaced Ribery before Henry.

I think think the French played a more active game than the Italians, and although they weren't really fluid this time, this also has to do with the Italian defense just clinging to all of them during the game (which is good on them). And in spite of all that, the French were still better coordinated than the Italians. They were able to push open cracks in their armour. They were just awful at finishing off the attacks with some goals. The Italians were struggling to hold them off even with just 10 Frenchmen left.

But yes, Ribery in 2010 will be a respected figure for sure, if the French qualify. Our commentators were calling Ribery, "this young man," and I was like huh? Young? He looks older than Zidane. And when I wiki him, he turns out to be two years younger than me. Hey! ;)
Jul. 10th, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
i was waiting to read your post on this, the Italians were beautiful during their win and I feel sympathy for Zidane, because no one wants that to be their last move and yet,what kind of frustration must he have been dealing with to think that was his best decision.

Jul. 10th, 2006 04:28 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm still waiting to hear why Zidane did what he did. The rumour mills are going mad about how Materazzi's remark was something racist about Arabs, said to be one of the few things that could tick him off. It's just terrifically sad. *sad*
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:35 am (UTC)
yeah, and you know with their serious anti-racist campaign, if he says Materazzi said something outside of the rules of acceptability, I would find that interesting as well.

if it gets announced, please post, I would hate to miss the explanation, I find the whole thing very sad too.
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:24 pm (UTC)
Keeping an ear up for it. Though I wonder if perhaps Zidane is the sort of player to tell all, as it were. He seems to be quite the gentleman that way.
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:45 pm (UTC)
i don't think he would "tattle" no, at the very least i hope his team-mates know, and they seem to be rallying around him, so.
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC)
Well, Zidane's wiki just got changed since last night. The comment there is much more appropriate now: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinedine_Zidane
Jul. 10th, 2006 03:43 am (UTC)
*nods* Yeah, that's why the whole Zidane headbutt incident just blew me away. Zidane looked so calm and collected when he got his shoulder hurt. I really do wonder what could have been said to provoke him.
But overall I was surprised at how civil the players are to each other. The Italians made me smile ^^

omg YES! Even the commentators for the Cup here irritated me so much! Just...ugh!

I'm already excited for the next Cup haha ^^
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:30 am (UTC)
I'm all excited for the next Cup too! It's such a real contrast, really. Zidane had no trouble dealing with pain, and he was literally laughing a few minutes before he went out. He should've gone out with more dignity, but given that we don't know yet what was actually said to him to piss him off, maybe he did. He didn't show his face for the runner-up medals.
Jul. 10th, 2006 06:17 am (UTC)
I don't think you can show up for the runner-up medals if you get red-carded. I'm not sure, but that's what I've read.

Materazzi goaded Zidane, but time will tell how - it still was unprofessional of Zidane. I've heard the 'terrorist' remark, and I've heard people talk about nipple tweaking of all things. I guess we'll see soon enough. I know Materazzi acted the same way in the Italy-US game, and goaded US players into getting cards as well. But I'm somewhat biased. :)
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC)
It still was unprofessional of Zidane, I agree. The Italians play a physical enough game that all the matches I've seen with them in it have wound up hairy. They managed to seriously tick off the Germans, which probably helped cost them their Finals.

The nipple tweaking was the focus of the Zidane's wiki vandalism last night. It was definitely the work of a viciously obsessed fan.
Jul. 10th, 2006 07:10 am (UTC)
Well well... I just can't hide it, I'm sooooooooooooo happy for my team, Italy won again, last time was 24 years ago \(^_^)/

I'll tell you how people has been celebrating here. Where I live, there were claxons all night long, adults and children shouting "Forza Azzurri!", cars covered with the Italian flag going around the streets... soccer makes Italians crazy XD
In bigger cities (such as Rome, Milan, Naples) people have been watching the match in principal squares and then celebrating all night long with songs, national anthem... sleeping has been hard last night (^^;

Now I tell you something that was aired on Italian TV. After the celebration, they interviewed Gattuso. When he saw his face on TV he said "How ugly I am... it seems I have a carpet on my face (referring to his beard and moustache)... oh my, how ugly I am...". That was fun XD The they talked about the match and about Lippi. Gattuso said he almost "threatened" him -as a joke of course- if the coach left them. Our players really like Lippi (^^)
They interviewed Buffon too. They said "you are the best goalkeeper etc." and he replied with a smile "I'm the goalkeeper of World Champions, that's it". That's charisma (^^)

About penalties, my father told me that usually best goalkeepers aren't good at penalties. That's right, Buffon was obviously confused when his opponents were about to kick ('-')
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:43 pm (UTC)
*LOL* Gattuso definitely has a carpet on his face. He seems to be a really cool guy on the field! I admire his playing, because he seems to be such a hard worker. I also noticed Gattuso was talking to Lippi before the award ceremony, right before he took off his pants. Was that the "threatening" bit? ;)

I wonder who will win the Golden Ball this year? Buffon should be in good standing. The other goalkeepers he might be up against would be Jens Lehmann of Germany and even Portugal's Ricardo.

I really hate penalties in terms of showing off goalkeeping skills. It seems very unfair for the goalkeeper, and just unfair in general to determine points. On the other hand, the shootout didn't really require much goalkeeper assistance in the end. Grosso's kick was definitely great!
Jul. 10th, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
Was that the "threatening" bit? ;)

Exactly (^^)

I really hate penalties in terms of showing off goalkeeping skills. It seems very unfair for the goalkeeper, and just unfair in general to determine points.

I agree. And pressure can be unbearable I think, so it's difficult to have a clear mind :/

On the other hand, the shootout didn't really require much goalkeeper assistance in the end. Grosso's kick was definitely great!

Thinking that in 1994 Italy went home because of two wrong kicks made everyone watch out of breath XD
Jul. 10th, 2006 03:11 pm (UTC)
I couldn't believe my eyes when Zidane did that O.O @_@ ToT

On French television they said that maybe the Italian player said bad things about Zidane's mother (who seems to be having some health issues). And his very first coach died few days ago, he was injured during this match, and before that he felt very hurt by the cruel criticism especially by the Spanish media... so he cracked up, he is a human after all ._.
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:44 pm (UTC)
It was probably a combination of pressure and instigation on the field for poor Zidane. He is only human, you are right. It shows us even the best of them can crack, and that always happens at the worst times.
Jul. 10th, 2006 04:55 pm (UTC)
My idea is: if someone says bad things to me, I reply. But I don't use my hands (or head XP)
Anyway, someone says that Materazzi said "terrorist" to Zidane, that should be why he lost control... but again, if he said "terrorist" he could have said something back.
Now our boys are back. Maybe Materazzi will speak... if he can remember what he said, I don't think his head was focused on words (^^;
Jul. 10th, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC)
This is true. Zidane really lost it there, and paid for it. The pressure must've really gotten to him. It was his last World Cup, he was determined to win, and apparently life wasn't great.

I'd definitely be interested to know if any Italian players remember more of what happened!
Jul. 10th, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC)
Of course, but there were too many elements of pressure as I mentioned above, and it seems that Materazzi was provoking Zidane during the whole match. But of course, he shouldn't have behaved like that, but the context was really too hard to not to crack I guess x_x

It seems that Zidane will declare in a few days why he did that, so wait and see ^^
Jul. 10th, 2006 08:12 pm (UTC)
This is a little off topic maybe (no, it's for sure XD), but I've visited your website... you're a great artist, your works are beautiful (O__O)
Jul. 11th, 2006 12:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you ! XD
Jul. 11th, 2006 08:37 am (UTC)
It seems that Zidane will declare in a few days why he did that, so wait and see ^^ *keeps one ear up*
Jul. 11th, 2006 12:36 pm (UTC)
All what we know for the moment is that Zidane told his "manager" that Materrazi said something "very serious"... but what !? XD
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )