Monday, July 10, 2006

WORLD CUP ALMANAC: The Day the Football Died

In a parallel universe somewhere, Zinedine Zidane is waking up around now, exhausted still, but smiling at the memory of his headed winner in last night's World Cup final, the crowning moment of glory in a truly great career.

In this dimension, however, that legacy lies in tatters.

The greatest footballer of the modern era left the game he graced so splendidly in a fashion beyond ignominy. If Zidane did have a premonition two years ago of how France's World Cup would transpire, it is a vision which has become unspeakably blurred.

Perhaps it will be revealed in time exactly what Marco Materazzi said to Zidane to prompt him to so lose control at a time when his team looked the better poised to give him his second World Cup winners medal. Whatever, the sense of devastation his sending off caused flowed not just through his own team, but around the Olympic Stadium in Berlin and throughout the football world.

Twenty years ago, as an 8-year old, I watched Diego Maradona slide a pass in front of Jorge Burrachaga to score the winner in the 1986 final, the Argentine number 10 crowning a tournament he had dominated with a typical moment of sublime intervention. Maradona's exploits that year inspired and instilled a profoundly magical sense of wonder in any kid of my generation who saw him; the spark, perhaps, that lit a billion football passions.

His own fall from grace in 1994 was sad, but in keeping with the mercurial nature of the man. Zidane's exit, on the other hand, so out of character with a player who embodied supreme grace and balance on the football field, was a shocking destruction of a dream, and of the irrational hope that one still has of football's narratives producing happy endings. Most of all, it was simply desperately sad.

World Cup tournaments often get the finals they deserve. 1970's technicolour dream ended in a carnival of timeless Brazilian genius; 1986 with the brilliance of Maradona finally outfoxing the grit and doggedness of West Germany; 1990's stupefying procession of defensiveness and cheating climaxed in a sour affair won by a dubious penalty; 1994's overheated ersatz finals stumbling to their end in a strange passionless venue, in a strangely passionless manner.

2006 was no different. Like the tournament, the match started in bold and open fashion. Like much of the tournament, there was a real technical quality to the play. But much like the way the knock-out stages of this World Cup descended into tense, conservative chess matches, the paralysis of fear soon gripped.

France had all the play from half-time onwards, but failed to commit the manpower to capitalise on their dominance. Italy, either through exhaustion or a reversion to extreme caution, refused to come out, and their lack of pace up front meant they generated little counter-attacking threat.

Ultimately the tournament was won through the resoluteness of the Italians, via the majestic Cannavaro, the dogged Gattuso and (perhaps an inspiration for future England teams) a new found steel in a penalty shoot out. Their thrilling victory over Germany in the semi-finals apart, they will leave little in the way of an inspirational legacy, other than in their exhibition of the less glamourous qualities needed to win at football.

But with their domestic football in meltdown, the pride in this victory will be a well timed tonic at home, and there was something quintessentially Italian about the hard-boiled, stubborn and obdurate way they won this tournament.

All the same, another World Cup has petered out to a tired, messy conclusion - and this time one denigerated further by the soul-destroying sight of a great hero's fall - and the quadrennial event which is supposed to create the legends that burnish the greatest game will instead seem to tarnish it. People will go back to their clubs now in search of that magic and international football's already battered reputation as the apex of the sport takes another blow.

I am glad I was not on 8-year old yesterday.

10 Comments:

Blogger Tom the Tim said...

Couldn't agree more, Tom.A tournament that was too long and after the romantic teams inevitably left,became too cynical.

Gamesmanship, or cheating finally triumphed, assuming ZZ was verbally provoked.

Glad to see you finally watched an episode of Dr. Who!

7:01 p.m.  
Blogger DrCelt said...

the commentator on french TV; "Ah non, Zinedine, not that, not now, not after everything you've done"

Voilá, c'est fini

8:25 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zinedine Zidane is not only the Hero of France he is the HERO of the Soccer World, whole world in my words he is the hero of the universe.
He is the SOUL of SOCCER.
MAZHAR (INDIA)
+919899663418

6:56 a.m.  
Blogger MAZHAR said...

Zinedine Zidane is not only the Hero of France he is the HERO of the Soccer World, whole world in my words he is the hero of the universe.
He is the SOUL of SOCCER.
MAZHAR (INDIA)
+919899663418

7:24 a.m.  
Blogger MAZHAR said...

Zinedine Zidane is not only the Hero of France he is the HERO of the Soccer World, whole world in my words he is the hero of the universe.
He is the SOUL of SOCCER.
MAZHAR (INDIA)
+919899663418

7:24 a.m.  
Blogger MAZHAR said...

Zinedine Zidane is not only the Hero of France he is the HERO of the Soccer World, whole world in my words he is the hero of the universe.
He is the SOUL of SOCCER.
MAZHAR (INDIA)
+919899663418

7:24 a.m.  
Blogger MAZHAR said...

Zinedine Zidane is not only the Hero of France he is the HERO of the Soccer World, whole world in my words he is the hero of the universe.
He is the SOUL of SOCCER.
MAZHAR (INDIA)
+919899663418

7:26 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have an outstanding good and well structured site. I enjoyed browsing through it distributive distance learning project paris hilton 1991 dodge truck fuel pump Beach license plate frames canon digital 35mm cameras Bath tubs 2f steam Effects celexa overdose private teen gay gallery free Asterisk voip wiki Bmw 1988 m5 lamictal used for

7:19 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been looking for sites like this for a long time. Thank you! » » »

12:28 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very interesting site... » »

6:30 a.m.  

Post a Comment

<< Home