It will certainly not go down as “one for the ages,” the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy. There were stretches of brilliant soccer on display to be sure, but also long periods of timid, lackluster, even disjointed parrying punctuated with injuries, both genuine and theatrical.
In the end, it was Fabio Grosso, the diving and rolling bane of the Socceroos, the man with the magic touch that broke the back of a fine German squad, who stepped to the line during shots from the mark with the hopes of Italy on his shoulders and the eyes of the world watching his every move.
In the end it was Grosso, the defender with an eye for the goal, whose frequent forays forward were an inspiration for unappreciated and disrespected defenders everywhere, nailing the shot, and then the dimunitive captain and centerback Cannavaro hoisting the golden globe high to the delight of the Italian throng.
The enduring image, of course, will be Zidane’s egregious sin–the headbutt to Materazzi–that sent him, justifiably, from the pitch at the moment when his team and country needed him most. Had his sharply struck header managed to elude Buffon moments before, perhaps there would have been no need for the second one, the pent-up frustration having been massively vented and released in appopriate fashion with a post-goal celebration.
But instead, Zidane bellowed back in frustration at Buffon after his spectacular save, then after becoming entangled with Materazzi moments later, came the exchange of words, the turn and approach, and finally the thuggish foul and the darkness which descended over the hopes of the French nation.
But Zidane is not a thug–he is known for his class and calm, his humble excellence on the pitch and at home. There is a dark place in all our souls, though, where such storms brew. Who’s to say what we would have done, having been provoked by Materazzi’s no doubt foul mouth, in a moment of such high drama and importance?
Zidane, the captain, should have turned and walked away (or perhaps taken two hands to the chest and shoved, a mere yellow and then we all move on), but his long walk toward Materazzi and the horrible header was the turning point in the match and, unfortunately, the image that will be most associated with his otherwise illustrious career.
One can only hope that the ugliness of that picture will fade with time, replaced with the moments Zizou would want remembered. But alas, we must all live with the consequences of our actions, the laws of moral physics working as reliably as the forces governing a diving, bending ball just inside the far post.
Was cosmic justice served? I think it was. Despite the fact that France carried the field yesterday, how could there had been glory for Les Bleus had they won, sullied as it would have been by such sin? Would it not have left a bad aftertaste and further disrepute for the game after a Cup already embroiled in criticism over poor officiating, diving, low scoring and rough play?
No, it is better that one man (and country) should suffer for the greater good and salvation of The Beautiful Game. The Italians with their brilliant defense, and just enough offense at precisely the right moments, deserved the win. They are, truly (and not in the manner of the winner of Major League Baseball’s annual tournament), World Champions.
Were they the best team, though? Ah, there’s the rub. You see, there is mere vapor separating these top teams. Even the U.S., with its one stellar performance vs. Italy, now steps forward claiming her own due. Yesterday’s final was a draw, true enough, with a lottery to follow. But a shootout is also a test of nerves under fire and in that respect, Italy held fast when it counted.
Still, for my money, Germany played more consistently excellent soccer from start to finish with Argentina a close second. The lesson in all this? Finish your chances when they count, defend well, and find yourself five good shooters with nerves of steel should you need them. Italy did that better than anyone else, and now they celebrate their fourth World Cup championship. Congratulazioni Azzurri!
And now what to do? Well, first to those of you, especially JRB and Hermit Jeremy, who have hung out here the last few weeks and made this so much fun–thanks, it’s been a great ride.
And to the dozens of you from Brazil, to Australia, to Germany, to England who have stopped by to read my World Cup posts, I salute and thank you–even if you did arrive here by searching the term, “Fabio Grosso, shirtless.”
And then? Some would say, “get a life.” Oh I have one, I can assure you, and it is made more full and complete by my connections with the millions the world over who play and honor the game that binds us all together, on a pitch-ful of dreams, as “one.”
(By the way, for you skeptics, the TV ratings for this World Cup in the US were through the roof. Maybe come four years in South Africa, you’ll be watching too.)