Monday, July 10, 2006

Fall from grace

Before getting down to the nitty-gritty of this entry, let me heartily congratulate Germany for their spectacular win over Portugal to bag third place in the recently concluded World Cup. Young Bastian Schweinsteiger made 2 awesome goals that made Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose look like washed-out old men (not that I mean to disparage Prinz Poldi, who won—deservedly, in my opinion— the Gillette Best Young Player award, nor Salto-Klose, who nabbed the Adidas Golden Shoe this year). Moreover, Deutschland’s defense was almost impeccable that night, thanks primarily to grizzled veteran goalkeeper Oliver Kahn (by the way, I thought it was very classy of Jens Lehmann to give way that night, seeing as how it was the retiring Kahn’s final pro football match). And of course props to the great Jurgen Klinsmann for molding a young, determined team to become “Germany’s world champions” and celebrated darlings of the German media. No matter that they did not go all the way to Berlin to have a shot at the Cup— that evening in Stuttgart, against a more seasoned Portugal squad, Jurgen’s boys really gave it their all, almost as if they had been fighting for the championship and not third place. Securing third was a nice feather in Germany’s cap, as the host nation has also been lauded for its practically flawless organization in putting together this year’s World Cup. Way to go, Germany, and danke for the memories.

Now let’s get to the ugly stuff. And I do mean ugly. I was actually rooting for France in the finals, mainly because of Zinedine Zidane and his heroics in Les Bleus’ last two triumphant matches. You had to hand it to Zizou: dismissed as “aging” and passé, the French captain shut all his critics up by helping his team reach the finals. But then he went and flushed his up-‘til-then illustrious career down the toilet by head-butting Italian defender Marco Materazzi. WTF was he thinking?!?! Just like that, he was transformed from hero to zero in my eyes. Not only was it the very last game he would ever play as a professional football player, it was the World Cup championship game, for crying out loud! His ejection from the field might as well have been the turning point of the match’s momentum. What looked like an imminent French victory suddenly became a scandalous end to their WC quest and a downright shitty exit for their star player and team captain (it was one of the sorriest displays of leadership I have ever witnessed). As my brother said, it was as if Michael Jordan suddenly sucker-punched John Stockton in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, and the Bulls ended up losing. Completely inconceivable, and utterly “idiotic”, as the game commentator sputtered, he too at a loss for words to explain Zidane’s show of savagery. I was actually gratified when France eventually lost in a penalty shoot-out, 5-3. Italy didn’t exactly play a great game, but after the head-butt, France sure as hell didn’t deserve to win. I hope their dismal defeat haunts Zidane to his dying day. For shame, Zizou. For shame.

Update: A few hours after I wrote this blog post, I found out Zidane was awarded the Golden Ball, the World Cup's equivalent of an MVP trophy (based on media votes). I could only shake my head in disbelief. How can someone who behaved so brutishly be given any kind of honor, much less one that declares him the best of all the great footballers who participated in this year's World Cup? What a sham. Leave it to the press to reward a superstar for bad conduct. At least Zidane had the decency to look discomfited standing beside Pres. Chirac in the group photo taken during the French team's reception at the presidential palace. He has yet to explain what prompted the headbutt heard around the world, but surely no explanation could justify it, nor wipe away the huge blemish that has now punctuated his career. Golden Ball, my ass.


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