Curate Omnes

Pay attention, everybody

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Athletes vs. Footballers

Over at Salon, a couple writers have a pet theory. After the US - Ghana match, King Kaufman found himself shocked that Ghana had 'better athletes' than the US. How could that be when America is a much bigger and richer country then Ghana? A couple weeks later, Andrew O'Hehir, took up the cause
parroting King's sentiments.

The basic argument is that "America's Best Athletes" leave soccer, forcing the athletic dregs to represent the US at the World Cup. King and Andrew went on to fantasize about several non-soccer athletes, usually drawn from baseball, basketball and football. If only, they say, we could get some of the ABAs to stick with soccer, then we would have a chance.

I've pretty much been through everything I want to say about this on the Salon comments, but I think this sort of thinking is a sort of defense mechanism. I think Americans are used to being the best at everything, so when they continue to underwhelm at the top levels, it must be because they're not really trying. Never mind that the people they keep talking about don't resemble in any way the top players in the world. Ignore the fact that the match that prompted all this talk was won on skills and determination and not athleticism. If we just had some big tall guys, then we'd be set.

America's soccer future is dim indeed.
All good things. . .

So the World Cup ends with Italy at the top spot. It seems that a touch of scandal at home is just what the doctor ordered to bring them their fourth title.

The game itself was a tense affair, which ended up needing penalties to determine the winner, but the moment that everyone will remember this game for is Zidane's childish reaction to Materazzi's smack talk. Unable to contain himself Zidane headbutted Materazzi in the chest, knocking him off his feet. Apparently the fourth quickly reviewed some video and let the referee know what happened. Zidane, playing in the last match of his career, was rightly sent off ten minutes before the end of extra time.

In the penalties themselves, the Italians put away all their shots, which meant that Trezeguet's miss cost the French their second World Cup. It's hard to say if Trezeguet would still have been in the penalty line up had Zidane still been on the field, but the French cause took a heavy blow when their best penalty taker got himself sent off.

As for the final result, the Italians truly deserved their victory. TV commentators are too polite to say this, but French penalty was the result of a major dive. There was no real contact between Malouda and Materazzi, but Malouda knew Materazzi was there and took the fall. The ref fell for it and Zidane's unconventional penalty crossed the line. The Italians came back full force and it was sweet that it was Materazzi who put them level with a powerful header from Pirlo's corner. Neither side was able to completely take control of the game after that, and the first half, then full time, and then extra time ended without either team managing to put a ball over the line. Late in the match, it was definitely the Italians who looked more fatigued and they were put into vulnerable positions on quite a few occasions by the French. But each time, the Italian defense was able to cope.

All in all a good victory by the Italians. I was especially glad to see them win after Zidane's shocking display, which lowered my respect for him immensely. I'll always remember him as a great player, but not as a class player.