Azzurri Clinch Their Fourth: Capping a Satisfying Cup Run

Well, forza Italia! The Azzurri win in what began as an exciting end-to-end match complete with attacking, creative play and then gradually degenerated into a certain battle of attrition with a bizarre twist. The French were clearly more the aggressive and attack-driven team, playing with creative menace in the midfield. Despite their phantom fould penalty kick, they were taking it to the Italian side for most of the match. Of course, Italy often absorbs most of the opposition’s offensive play in favor of lighting quick counterattacks, but this match was a little different as it wore into extra time.

Strangely, for some time the Azzurri held the majority of possession, but they didn’t seem to be playing with the zeal previously seen in the tournament. Instead, most of the match, they played the ball back a lot and just held the ball, rather than driving forward with numbers eager to penetrate the French final third. More than that, their playmaker, Francesco Totti, was virtually invisible during his minutes. As the match progressed, Italy seemed more leaden and negative in their approach. Even after the absolutely disgraceful ending to the international career of Zinedine Zidane, with his ferocious, ram-like head-butt and subsequent red card, the Italians never really siezed the man advantage.

Interestingly enough, in an irony among ironies, Zizou has since been named the player of the World Cup, winning the Golden Ball award. Perhaps this off-field award will mitigate his gross on-field indiscretion, but I have to say that I think his winning is a travesty. For one, being sent off in such a manner should have immediately eliminated him from contention. I am not sure what Materazzi said to him, but it had to be serious, because it was as if his words stopped Zidane dead in his tracks and catapulted the crown of Zizou’s head. Plus, I would even go so far as to say that Zidane may have been justified in nailing Materazzi, but in his iternational curtain call? But beyond that one incident, he served a one game suspension earlier in the first stage, after lackluster performanes, to be sure. Aside from all that, he really had one amazing game, against Brazil. He played well in the semi-final, but it was more of a solid effort against a Portugese team that picked the worst match to struggle. Sure he scored, but it was on a penalty, which is hardly a strike that garners great admiration. It is as if a single game is the reason for his individual recognition,a s opposed to either of the other two Italian candidates that played every minute of every game and never received as much as an admonition from any of the ridiculously overzealous referees. It jst seems like a horrendously wrong message to send, and that comes from a player who was known to get a red card or two in his younger days.

Ultimately, I am glad the Italians won, I just wish they would have done so in a much grander fashion. A final that arrives at penalty kicks is not much to cheer. That statement is even more substantiated by the fact that all anyone could talk about after the game was Zidane’s violent reaction. It was a really disappointing end to tournament that has been heavily criticized for lacking exceptional play. On that point, I don’t completely agree. I think the tournament had wonderful drama and pagentry, with electric performances and exciting games. Emerging nations showed extremely well and althought he goal count was low, most of the matches were far better than the results suggested. There are always bad games and negative play, but that is because the stakes are so high. Plus, the referees weren’t exactly consistent in their approach to the game, causing all kinds of unnecessary problems. As I have said, nothing beats the World Cup for me and a weak final can’t kill the brighter aspects of a decent month of world class soccer.

A Brilliant Sports Weekend

What a sports weekend! The Tour de France rolls, while Wimbledon has reached the men’s and women’s finals, and of course the World Cup wraps. Of course the Tour is only ending the first of many grueling weeks, so the peloton has begun to settle a bit. On the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Muaresmo kicked the nerves and hoisted the “Rosewater Dish,” while Roger Federer is on track to go deeper into the history books with a fourth consecutive championship; yet his current nemesis Raphael Nadal is all that stands in the way. Nadal seems like the only player on the tour that ever has a chance of beating the Swiss number one, beating him the last four matches. It has become a rivalry of impressive note. Then, there is the World Cup.

Well, my prediction was flat wrong, as Italy looks dangerously positioned to win it all. The Germans seemed to lose some of the attacking spirit in their last two games, although Italy’s defense is historically world renowned. In a lot of ways, this reminds me of 1990, only in reverse. Then Germany raised the cup in Italy, when the then hosts seemed clearly the team to beat, also with the tourney’s leading scorer, but ended up with a third place finish. The Azzurri are the clear favorites going into tomorrow’s match, but Les Bleus cannot be counted out easily. In Zinedine Zidane’s final game of his incandescent career, the sheer force of his inspirational presence is an enigmatic x-factor (or should that be z-factor?). Moreover, this French squad retains a core of players from their ’98 championship. Still, Italy has improved and grown in their strength and quality of play with each game. Considering that they have yet to allow a goal from the opposition and their goals have come from ten different players, I just don’t see them losing the final, despite the Zizou affect. In fact, I can actually see Italy rising up and running away with a wider margin of victory, like two or three goals. My only hope is that it is an exciting game played with flair and not one of the conservative foul fests that can sometimes infect the final. I now doubt will be pulling for the Azzurri.