Happily, my prediction of a boring 1-0 French victory turned out to be inaccurate. We had a whopping two goals, but more importantly, we had some real excitement ten minutes from time:
There are all sorts of interesting angles to discuss after Zidane's rhino impersonation:
1. It's fitting that a World Cup most notable for Zidane and for an explosion of yellow and red cards ended with Zidane getting a red card.
2. It's unfortunate that Zidane's career had to end with a moment of ignominy, but it's a nice reminder that no player or person is all good or all bad. The best players all have bad moments. Maradona had his Hand of G-d, Pele has his whoring for Mastercard and just about every other sponsor (and that unfortunate pick of Columbia to win the '94 World Cup), Cruyff has his refusals to play for the Dutch in a key qualifier for the '74 tournament or in any of the '78 tournament, Beckenbauer has...something, I'm sure, and now Zidane has the headbutt. It just goes to show that we should never define a player by his worst moment, because everybody has them.
3. Although the red card will likely be remembered as the defining moment of the match, especially since the penalties were not exactly memorable, it did not have much of an impact on the match. It did deprive the French of a chance to win in the final ten minutes and they were creating all the chances by that point, but the French had been trying to score for 110 minutes and to that point had only produced a dodgy penalty. (And this despite the alleged greatest striker in the world today! Sorry, I just can't help myself anymore. Henry did play well yesterday.) It's not likely that Zidane's dismissal prevented France from scoring the winner, nor would it have prevented David Trezeguet from missing from the spot, as Zidane likely would have taken the place of Abidal or Sagnol in the line-up. (Incidentally, Trezeguet also missed his penalty in the 2003 Champions League Final for Juventus against AC Milan.)
4. Think about this: if Buffon doesn't make an outstanding save on Zidane's header at the end of the first overtime period, then Zidane is probably remembered as the best player since Pele, if not Maradona. He would have gone out scoring both goals in the World Cup Final after scoring the winner in the semifinal and assisting on the winners in the quarterfinal and the round of 16. Instead, by a matter of inches, he'll probably be remembered as a sterling player with occasional bouts of madness. And this is all so by a matter of inches. Isn't that a reflection that we don't really judge players the right way?
5. If it is true that video evidence was used to punish Zidane for the red card, then this is an instance of the officials reaching the right result by the wrong means, but it also might be an impetus for use of video replays in soccer, which would be a good thing. ("A lot of good that does us," chimes in the '66 West German side.)
6. If it is true that Materazzi baited Zidane by calling him a terrorist, then how does that jibe with FIFA's stance against racism throughout the tournament. And if we move in the direction of using video replay to punish players after matches for diving or other conduct missed by the referee and linesmen, then can the same be done for racist comments? And would FIFA have to use lip-readers to mete out discipline? For the record, no matter what Materazzi said, Zidane's conduct was unjustifiable. Maybe the immortal Jack Dalton from Roadhouse could have helped:
Zidane: "What if someone calls me a terrorist?"
Dalton: "Well, are you?"
We could all stand to learn something from Dalton. Even you, Zizou.
A few other thoughts on the game:
1. For a team that is noted for coming apart at the spot, credit must be given to Italy for taking five excellent penalties. They were all into the roof of the net and/or the side netting. The only one that possibly could have been stopped was Pirlo's first kick, but it was high enough that it couldn't be considered a bad effort. And who would have thought that the Italian kickers would have performed so well from the spot, but their ace keeper Gigi Buffon went the wrong way just about every time. Interestingly enough, if Buffon would have guessed correctly on Trezeguet's kick, he might have just been in position to deflect the ball in when it caromed down off the crossbar.
2. For me, Fabio Cannavaro was the MVP of the tournament, mainly because Italy won on account of their defense and Cannavaro's ability to marshal a backline that saw all sorts of changes throughout was excellent. (If France won, I would have been strongly tempted to give my imaginary vote to Thuram.) I did find it amusing to be yelling "get 'em, Fabio!" on a number of occasions yesterday. Soccer makes me do the weirdest things.
3. There was much discussion while watching the game with Orson and Peacedog as to whether the "doctors" (or "physios," if you prefer the English term) have any medical training at all. Apparently, the cures for any soccer injury are:
a. water (similar to Robitussin for Chris Rock's Dad);
b. a sponge; or
c. the spray.
There was much speculation as to what exactly is contained in that magical spray that allows soccer players to return from the most painful injuries. I personally suggested that it's Pam, but Orson pointed out that for France or Italy, it would almost certainly be some sort of aerosol olive oil. Deodorant or any other bathroom spray seems highly unlikely. We also decided that the universal motion from a player that he is injured should no longer be clutching an ankle or a head, but rather a downward motion from an index finger indicating that the spray is required.
4. Was Francesco Totti even on the field? I make fun of Henry for delivering less-than-stellar performances for his country, but he's Just Fontaine compared to Totti.