Sunday, July 09, 2006

Consolation Comments, Final Prediction

Germany 3:1 Portugal ... Bastian Schweinsteiger! He had a quasi-hat trick ... for those who didn't see the game, he put two long range rockets past Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo--considered one of the better keepers of the tournament--and in between these goals, he hit the free kick that a Portuguese defender mis-hit and redirected into his own goal.

Regarding Cristiano Ronaldo and the booing he's received in the last few games, I feel it's a little harsh. I don't see how he's responsible for Rooney's red card, and yes, he dives, and that's frustrating to watch, but why single him out when this Cup was full of divers? Though I've written here that Ronaldo gets on my nerves sometimes, I think he was more deserving of, say, the Young Player award than Podolski, who really only had one superb game, and that was a Sweden match where his partner Klose did most of the work anyway. (As for other deserving Young Players, Rooney didn't have a fantastic tournament, which is understandable because of his injury and his piddling midfield support. Messi didn't get enough playing time.) At various times in the elimination rounds, Ronaldo would look like the only feasible threat from Portugal's offense, and that's no small feat.

I do have to say, the most disappointing things about this Cup have been that a lot of players didn't show up and have good tournaments (Ballack, Ronaldinho...), that some extremely talented teams were a shambles tactically and in terms of team cohesion (England, Brazil), and that the elimination rounds saw a lot of defensive soccer where almost none of the group stage dramatics returned.

As for today's final, I hope that it's a classic. I'm mentally preparing myself for a bore, though, just in case. What we have are two great 'tournament teams,' where Italy are 'micro,' France are 'macro.' The Italians played just well enough to succeed in match after match--so that if we look at them in their games against USA or Australia, we think, 'There's no way in hell this is a championship squad.' But put them in a superbly-officiated, high-stakes match like the one against Germany, and even I will admit that Italy played strong, clean soccer and won an honorable (if heartbreaking to me) victory. In the end, Italy have been rising to the occasion only as far as they need to rise. France, on the other hand, didn't rise to the occasion in each match, but strung together a long-term survival plan, taking three group matches (in an easy group) to find their sea legs, using their underdog status to devastating effect against Spain and Brazil, and battling Portugal in a game where neither team could seem to get a rhythm going ... in short, they're survivors, and with Zidane they can also be miracle-makers. If Zidane shows up, if he has another performance like the one against Brazil, then France will win their second star. Anything less, and Italy will contain him, and the fact that they have tighter teamwork and (man for man) probably better players will overtake the match. My prediction is Italy, 2:1, though I'll be hoping for the other way around.


Anonymous said...

Zach --I don't know anything about soccer. I watch maybe two games a year. (Usually with my grandfather when I'm in Brazil.)

But today's game (Ita v. Fra) might have spoiled professional soccer for me forever.

The progression of Zidane's plays, throughout the entire cup, had a palpable logic to them, to the point where the head-butt to Materazzi was a real tragedy in the classical sense.

There's no doubt about it: there's a great narrative here. There are some great actors, and some great directors (Domenech, Lippi). There's mystery, but behind that mystery I'm afraid of greed and corruption as the ultimate unifying threads.

None of the hyperbole before the Cup lived up to anything. Predictions were shifty. There were many surprises, but few good games. Will it improve? I hope in 2010 we won't have forgotten this amère victoire.

Anonymous said...

I think there was a lot of dignity in that aggression. A header to the chest, it was kind of beautiful and samurai-like.

It's a memorable goodbye.

Anonymous said...

Memorable, yes. But there's no dignity in aggression.