July 9th, 2006 • 6:11 pm
It’s funny how the outcome of such a momentous event can hinge on a single moment. I am not talking about the Zidane head-butt, obviously, since that incident didn’t really have such a huge impact on the game in and of itself.
I am talking about the beautiful Zidane header in extra time that Buffon just managed to claw away, thereby saving his utterly dominated team from near-certain defeat. The first half was not particularly impressive for the French, and they were a bit lucky to be level at half-time, but the second half was all France, and the overtime periods were pretty much the same.
If that Zidane header had gone in, it is very likely that France would have won 2-1. Zidane would most certainly not have had his moment of madness later on, and would have been hailed as a national and, indeed, international hero. It would have been the most fitting end to a terrific career.
Instead, we get this weird finale, with the unexplicable head-butt, the ignominious sending off, and the inevitable lottery of the penalty kicks.
Inquisitive minds will of course want to know what triggered this reaction by the French captain. It was probably some stupid insult uttered by the Italian player, even possibly a racist one, which wouldn’t be surprising coming from Italy.
But ultimately it matters little. It can reasonably be assumed that, through his career, Zidane has heard it all. He just knew that, no matter how stupid the other guy was, he couldn’t be stupid in return. But he was. And he was deservedly sent off for it.
The beauty of it, of course, is that it brings everything down to a very human level. These players are monsters, but they are also simple, flawed individuals, and they make mistakes. It doesn’t really take anything away from the game, I don’t think.
This particular game might not have been a classic, but it was still a great game. It was unfortunate that the French didn’t manage to turn all this domination into a goal, but as usual it was defensive football that ultimately won—although, as I said, it still all hinged on a single stupendous save by Buffon.
I was pleased to see Thierry Henry have a great game, in spite of the defensive approach of the Italians. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a goal for his efforts, but he did try his best, and had a couple of wonderful runs. It was just not going to happen this way, and the only way it could happen was through a wonder goal in overtime, which Zidane almost delivered.
Oh well. It was certainly a great achievement by the French just the same. And the Italians deserved it just about as much, having managed to eliminate the hosts in the semi-final—although they did have a bit of a lucky run before that. It’s unfortunately that some of their playing was still marred by outrageous play-acting (although not in this particular game, thankfully), which effectively won them the qualification against Australia. But everyone is guilty of it, ultimately, and I don’t think they were anywhere near as bad as the Portuguese in that department…
So, was it a great World Cup? I’ll leave that to the analysts. It was certainly an enjoyable one for us over here, and we’re already looking forward to seeing some of these players compete again in domestic and European competitions.