10 July 2006

Weakest Winners Ever or Daniels last post about the World Cup

Now it has been said that to win the World Cup a team needs to be as lucky as they are good. This is undoubtedly true about most things in life; sheer talent does not live in a vacuum. This World Cup seemed to bring together a perfect storm for team Italy. While Italy was itself reeling from match fixing allegations that have rocked Italian football domestically, they seem to have created a big enough storm with this win that no one will care.

As I watched the game and even after with the outcome known a thought occurred to me, could Italy be the weakest side to win a World Cup in recent memory. This is by no means a slight against the Italians, sometimes luck is all you really need. World Cup history is spotted with such footballing perfect storms that have lead lesser teams to World Cup victories, look at Uruguay as a prime example.

Through out the World Cup Italy were thoroughly average not producing the flashes of a top flight team much less one worthy of winning a world title. There was of course the disappointing inability to put away a beleaguered and under staffed USA team who was 2 men down for the better part of the second half. Their victory over Australia was plagued by a terrible call that never should have been and once again brought up the question of diving. The Italians have long been known for their on the pitch theatrics and diving talents, in fact it’s something of a joke in international soccer circles.

The Italians dumped a beaten up Ukraine who had played their heart and souls out to beat Switzerland in their previous match. The Ukrainians on paper should have been no match for the Italians and on the day they weren’t. The German match was the first time you saw a glimmer of a team they could be in a very thrilling over time winner. They showed a great deal of strength and skilled play to get them past the Germans.

The final is another story altogether. The second half saw France dominate the Italians and to their credit the Italians didn’t dive as much. I was sure Zidane was going to win it with his head in the first over time but it was not to be. Then with the second over time came the stroke of ultimate luck that Italy needed to win. First Henry cramped up and had to be substituted and of course then came the incident, Zidanes head butt on Marco Materazzi. Now I could never justify what was done but I knew from the instant it happened that Materazzi had said something. Turns out that he called Zidane a ’dirty terrorist’. I am not entirely surprised by this, I am sure horrible things are said on the pitch every day and none of them lead to this but for whatever reason Zidane could take no more. It’s just unfortunate that he chose to end such a distinguished career in such an unfitting manner.

As for the penalties, that is the way it’s supposed to be done. A good number of people believe that it is a coin toss as to who wins it and that it cannot be practiced for. This belief is moronic. Sure penalties are a lousy way to lose a match and there is nothing great about it for goal keepers who bare much of the burden of it. This penalty session proved how it should be done. The Italians had clearly practiced for it and they took their shots perfectly despite some very good instincts by Barthez. Both the Italian and French penalty takers did so perfectly almost textbook in their execution.

This is life, the bad guys don’t always die and sometimes the best team doesn’t win. But then again this is why we watch the beautiful game, if we didn’t believe in luck and chance we would automatically assign Brazil the winners and be done with it until the European Cup.

On the whole it was a great tournament full of surprises and twists. I was a little disappointed that this time around it seemed wholly dominated by European teams. Hopefully this next go round in four years in South Africa will bring out some of the colour and talent of African football. I still long for the day when the African nations take their place at the upper table of football and are no longer content with making it to the knock out stages, plus it would be a nice change to hear a ref cursed out in Swahili rather than English, Italian, French of Portuguese.

On an interesting side note I found that Steve Nash and I share one thing in common, we are both Totenham supporters. I didn’t realise it but Nash played in the Spurs youth system.

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