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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Les Bleus Blew It

Observations on watching the World Cup Final:

1. The penalty called on Italy in the fifth minute was a phantom call. Florent Malouda of France dove frequently today, so much so that when he really was taken down in the penalty area late in the game, the referee didn't call it. There are two explanations -- either he felt guilty because he wrongly called a penalty in the fifth minute on a Malouda dive or that he was tired of Malouda's diving. Malouda is a gifted player -- very quick -- but that wasn't a penalty in the fifth minute. Lucky for him, Italy's Marco Materazzi, the player called for the takedown of Malouda, scored Italy's lone goal in the nineteenth minute on a masterful header off a great corner kick by Andrea Pirlo.

2. Gianluigi Buffon, Italy's goaltender, was masterful today. The U.S. announcers gave great kudos to Italian defender Fabiano Cannavaro, who deserved them, but Buffon came up huge again and again today.

3. What was Zinedine Zidane thinking when he got his red card during overtime? He lost his cool big-time and went out not as the grand old man of the game, but as a French cousin to former Ohio State football coach, Woody Hayes. Headbutting an opponent (Materazzi) out of frustration? What was that all about?

4. France blew it because they dominated the action in the second half. Italy took it to France in the first half, but the Azzuri looked spent in the second half. Their catalyst, Francesco Totti, looked like a guy playing with six surgical screws in his ankle, which he was (he was substituted for), and the Italians were more content to kick the ball backwards in the second half than forwards. France had its chances, but they just couldn't convert.

5. It's sad to see one of the world's greatest sporting events end on a shootout. Perhaps the substitution rules should be liberalized so that if you go into overtime, you can have a few more substitutes. Adding more substitutes also would enable the return of the "golden goal." The "golden goal" rule should be reinstituted, because there can be few greater dramas than watching the World Cup final and waiting for the golden -- or sudden death to you Americans -- goal. That France lost isn't the fault of David Trezeguet, an amazing striker in his own right, who happened to hit the top of the crossbar and, unlike Zidane in the fifth minute, see his ball bounce in front of the goal line instead of behind it. Trezeguet hit a hard shot and missed, yes, but Zidane took himself out of the game with the stupid red card, and he's one of the best penalty shooters of all time. Without Zidane, Patrick Viera (who exited early because of what looked to be a pulled hamstring) and Thierry Henry (who was substituted for in overtime because he looked totally out of gas), France fared very well in the shootout but had an uphill fight in it.

6. The referee on balance did a good job today. He let the players play, probably could have issued a few more yellow cards, but he didn't let the match focus on him.

It's a shame that Zinedine Zidane had to go out on such an awful note. He should be remembered for his heroics and his skills, but instead, at least for a while, he'll be remembered for a maneuver that's more likely found in the World Wrestling Federation than the World Cup.

Congratulations, Azzuri, on an outstanding job.


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