Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 11:06 AM

2006 World Cup Champions: Italy, Italy, Italy! (Ah right, Wimbledon happened too…)

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

As I readily conceded in this article, I had no great expectations that my sentimental pick, Trinidad and Tobago, would advance very far in this year’s World Cup. Therefore, their failure to make it out of the first round did not disappoint me too much.

But my heart was soon broken when my serious pick (to win it all), Brazil, were humiliated by France in the quarterfinals. And it was broken a second time when Germany – my new serious pick for reasons explained in this article – fell to Italy in the semis.

Therefore, as a three-time loser going into Sunday’s final, I’m sure you can appreciate why I couldn’t care any less which team won. Nonetheless, I wanted to see a good match. And, in this respect, I finally found redemption – as Italy defeated France in a thrilling game, which evoked the full gamut of emotions.

However, to hear some of my American friends talk about Sunday’s final (and soccer in general), one might think I spent the afternoon watching paint dry. Yet, by any objective criteria, including international interest, participation, drama and sheer excitement, the World Cup is second only to the Olympics in significance as a sporting event. But the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat this spectacle elicits actually surpass similar experiences at the Olympic Games. After all, at the World Cup, the pride of nations is vested in only a few players playing for unadulterated glory in the most universal and egalitarian game ever known to mankind. And, such focus and intensity are simply unmatched in the world of sport.

Therefore, I feel obliged to disabuse my American friends of their fatuous and jingoistic taunts about it being too boring to watch. After all, such taunts are laughable coming from people whose national sport is the soporific game of Baseball. And, let’s just call this spade a spade: the only reason the United States doesn’t take to soccer is because Americans suck at soccer!

(Incidentally, given that billions of people around the world love soccer just the way it is, I suggest Americans keep their parochial suggestions for “making the game more exciting” to themselves….)

Indeed, for the rest of us, this World Cup showed sport at its best – highlighted by Ghana kicking the U.S. out of the tournament and making it to the prestigious round of 16 in their first Cup appearance, and Italy eliminating heavily-favored Germany with 2 spectacular goals in the waning minutes of extra time.

Unfortunately, it also showed sport at its worst – marred by (European) hooligans rampaging around venues all over Germany, and “the Michael Jordan of soccer”, Zinédine Zidane of France (if not his play on the field, then his big-bucks contract and commercial endorsements make this analogy most apt), disgracing himself, his country and the sport by delivering a thuggish head-butt to the chest of an Italian player.

Nonetheless, with Iran’s political leaders vowing to wipe Israel off the map, it was good to see Iran’s soccer players acquit themselves so well as their country’s ambassadors of goodwill throughout the tournament. Indeed, this year’s World Cup in Germany provided a timely and instructive juxtaposition (in fostering unqualified camaraderie amongst nations) to the tensions brewing in the Middle East and Asia that threaten to engulf the world in nuclear conflagration….

NOTE: Since it will probably be the most talked about moment of this World Cup, here’s what I think about Zidane’s head-butt: Rumor has it that the Italian player made some racist or anti-Muslim remarks about his Mummy and that this is what provoked (goaded) Zidane – who was born in the French projects to parents from North Africa – to ram him with that primal rage. But no matter how provoked or harrassed (and he clearly was), Zidane’s reaction was inappropriate, disproportionate and stupid! (And, if my collage above does not suffice, click here to see for yourself….)

But it was almost like listening to a New Orleans dirge being played in reverse order to witness commentators who, at that moment, went from regaling Zidane as the greatest player since Pele who was poised to deliver unprecedented World Cup glory to France, to lamenting his sudden fall from grace. And, the irony seemed completely lost on them when they began recalling all of his past stupid acts that made Zidane’s career fated to this ignominious end. Indeed, having announced his retirement before the tournament began, it was a pitiful sight to see this World Cup MVP and arguably the best player of his generation red-carded (thrown-out) in such disgraceful fashion from the final game of his career.

ENDNOTE: Apropos watching paint dry, did you happen to see the Wimbledon finals last weekend? Well, congratulations to Amelie Mauresmo for defeating odds-on favourite Justine Henin-Hardenne to win her first Wimbledon title; and to Roger Federer for defeating Rafael Nadal – the man who defeated him in the finals at the French Open – to win his 4th consecutive title.

But frankly my friends, could they have typecast two more unappealing players for the women’s final? Well, perhaps if they had fashioned a match up between clones of the bespectacled 30-year-old Billy Jean King – who looked then like the dowdy spinster she’s become and the butch 20-year-old Martina Navratilova – who looked then like a 200lb muscle-bound ballerina on the tennis court before her makeover turned her into the svelte and legendary woman-eater she’s become.

Forgive me. Because, under normal circumstances, both finals would be worthy of more relevant comment. However, imbibing coverage of the World Cup has made me so intoxicated on sport that it will take the rest of this summer for me to sober up. But I am still lucid enough to appreciate that the previous paragraph is leading me into a charge of writing while drunk. Therefore, I shall end here before I crash and hurt someone….Too late?

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