Tuesday, July 11, 2006

'Un fin de epoque'

World Cup Final:
Italy 1 (5) - France 1 (3)

I hardly know where to begin with a match that was at times exhilarating, at others infuriating, at times confusing, and in the final moments downright disappointing for any fan of Les Bleus.

Needless to say, the spirit is decidedly more blue in Paris than the national football team would have it.

For the French, the loss in penalty kicks means the end of an era. Everyone has recognized this. With Zidane's exit from the world stage, Viera's unlikely return to the international pitch, and a slew of new stars banging at the gate, Les Bleus look ready for a complete overhaul.

Italy is team that should not have won the World Cup. As a blogger, I reserve the right to state my firm opinion that the Italian squad is a collection of overagressive, unsportsman-like thugs that rely on dramatics, cheap shots and insults to win games. While there are exceptions to these convictions, (most notably Buffon, a terrific goalkeeper, Totti, the heart of the Italian attack, and Cannavaro, the bastion of the Italian defense) I feel strongly that Italy's world cup title is, and should be stained by their questionable play. The Italians were NEVER an honest squad that played the game within the rules and looked to win honestly. They would elbow, hold, insult, dive, beg for calls, and showboat like the primadonnas that their attackmen are at the earliest convinience.

My disdain for Team Italy is not rooted in their Final but in their bloodbath with Team USA almost 2 weeks ago. In that game, the Italians revealed themselves to be cry babies, dirty thugs and showboats. Upon scoring the only Italian goal, the Italian forward dropped to one knee and begin to "play a violin" for the exit of America. This was UNDOUBTEDLY the most offensive act of showboating that was exhibited this World Cup. FIFA should have taken action, but the event only revealed what I have become convinced about the Italians; they are primadonnas by definition.

Their coach expressed that it would be their hunger for a title and for glory that would propel the Italians into the winners circle. He was right. Italy's perfection in penalty kicks did ensure the Italian victory. Here, the Italians deserve great praise. They were willing to put it all on the line for the World Cup title, and would not be denied a single goal.

France's lethargy in the PK's doomed them to defeat. Not that Terezgut must be blamed for losing the World Cup, (Henry, Zidane and Barthez might merit that award), but his crossbar bounce out revealed France's detachment from what was happening.

Zidane In short order, What the fuck was Zinedine Zidane thinking when he headbutted Marco Materazzi in extra time? As an experienced soccer player, with a reputation for composure on the pitch, Zidane knows and is prepared for the occasional insult. It has been reported that Materazzi called Zidane a terrorist (on account of his Algerian Muslim roots) and attacked his mother. Neverthelss, for Zidane to lose his cool is unexcusable. His choice to headbutt the Italian not only merited his departure from the game, but also set up France's loss in penalty kicks.

Zidane is a seasoned player, the French captain and an international hero. Without him at the helm, the French seemed shaken and unfocused as the headed into the penalty kick show down. While you never want to play the, "if Zidane hadn't..." game, it is certain that even his presence at the end of the game woudl have been a comfort for fans. Imagine for a moment, the way the game could have ended. Italy wins 5-3 in penalty kicks, and Zidane receives a standing ovation. Smiling, the ubiqutous Frenchmen waves to the 1 billion people watching the World Cup, and signs off in style.

If only that could have happened.

Henry Another person guilty of France's defeat is Theirry Henry. Although the striker did receive a hard hit barely a minute into the game, it is certain that had he played how he usually does in the English Premiership, he would have easily buried a goal or two and ensured a French victory. His inability to put away a winner, or almost any goal at all is embarassing. He is regarded to be the finest striker in Europe. How come he can't score in the World Cup?

So Italy's victory is soaked in controversy over Zidane, match-fixing at home and dirty play throughout the tournament. While they are the champions, and should be celebrated for winning out a defensive World Cup, I personally hope that the 2010 champion is a team with grace, power and prowess, that will show the world how to play soccer and how to be a model athlete.

I also hope that I will be in South Africa for a match, a week, or the entire tournament. Hoping and waiting, I will see you all in 2010.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

"Thanks for being our guest"

Germany 3 - Portugal 1

The hand-written banner in the crowd today read "thanks for being our guest." Outside the hotel for Team Germany a similiar banner hung in the wind with the words "Thanks for four great weeks guys."

For the Germans, the 2006 World Cup was everything that a host country could ever hope for. Sure a trip to the World Cup final and a chance to hoist the iconic trophy would have bee nice, but remember something here, Germany was expected to barely exit the first round when they begun play almost a month ago. If you had told many Germans that the National Team would secure third place honors at the end of the tournament, many would have called you crazy.

But despite limited support and confidence, Team Germany stepped up to the plate and delievered for the home team. After blazing through the round robin against stiff competition, the Germans pushed ahead with the kind of storm surge that seemed to suggest they could never be stopped. Only with two flash lightning, late game goals were the Italians able to overcome Deutschland. Had it not been for those pivotal goals, when the German defense was tired and ready for PKs, the Germans would surely have been on to the Final.

Kahn Today's third place game featured veteran keeper and National Team captain Oliver Kahn. Kahn is well-known for his Type-A personality and his strong presence on the field. At the beginning of the tournament, it was decided that Kahn would sit as second keeper to Arsenal goalie Jens Lehmann. The decision was one of the matters that German manager Klinsmann took a lot of heat for.

Despite Kahn's absence throughout the tournament, the Germans played well both offensively and defensively. In fact, the move to play Kahn toady probably represents a deep respect of the coach for his star, back-up keeper whose positive attitude has allowed the Germans to play as a team rather than bicker about playing time. At 37, the 2006 World Cup will surely be Kahn's last, and today's beautiful win over Portugal to secure Third place honors at home is an ideal way for any keeper to finish his career between the posts.

Schweinsteiger Brian Schweinsteiger gave the Germans all three of their goasl today with blazingly precise balls all from outside the 18. His first goal, in the 56th minute, sliced right throuhg the Portuguese defense and found talented keeper Ricardo a second behind the ball as it crisply floated into the upper netting.

A few minutes later, on a free kick opportunity, Schweinsteiger powered a free kick into the mob of defenders and German attackmen setting up a deflection into the Portuguese net. Portuguese defender Petit claimed responsibility for the deflection, which baffled GK Ricardo and allowed the Germans to go up 2-0.

In the 78th minute, Brian Schweinsteiger claimed a psuedo-hat-trick with another long, hard ball that rose just over Ricardo and dropped into the goal. The third goal all but solidified the German victory, and Schweinsteiger promptly ripped off his shirt for the glory of the 52,000 people in attendance, and the German supporters around the world.

Portugal's Nuno Gomes salvaged Lisbon's pride, and scored in the 88th minute just before time was called.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

One Day, One Game, One Moment...All the Difference

In the immortal words of Eminem, "If you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted…One moment would you capture it or just let it slip?”

The pinnacle of every footballers dream is immortalized in the fascinating moment that is FIFA’s World Cup Final match. A theater where media praised “gods” of the game crumble, fail and yeild to young, no-name break out stars who show the daring tenacity and heart to seize the moment, capture it and not let it slip away. A theater where legends who previously were written off as “too old” and “not fit” come out and show their due in their curtain call game…find magic in their boots just one last time and show the world that in fact, they are not done…not yet done at all producing awe inspiring shows of athletic creativity and country raising displays of flash and football brilliance.
One such legend written off as “not fit enough to compete with the youth in the present day theater of football is Zinedine Zidane…known to the few, the proud as the great ZIZOU. In one day, one game, one moment…Zizou, a 34 year old footballer, previously written off as “too old” and “not of this generation of football play” shows the heart so talked about; carries the weight and faith of his entire country on his shoulders, proving that he is in fact not finished. I am of course talking of the heroic act that Zizou captained his team and country in France’s recent bout with the super-stars of Brasil. With the thought of this act being his last on the world stage of football, Zizou took the helm and turned the tabled on Brasil, humbling them and for the second time in a World Cup…something that the legendary Z.M. said and I agreed, “I am grateful for having lived long enough to have seen France humble Brasil…twice”
But our aging star was not at all ready to let others take charge, as they pressed along, hearts held high to face the formidably opponents in Portugal. But our ‘maestro’ was not to be shaken by the young flash in the boots of such Portuguese play makers as Christiano Ronaldo, or the aging talent in the legs of Lucha Figo. No! Zizou was not to bow out to these ‘diving pansies’ hungry for acted fowls. As intermission of this World Cup play was fast approaching, Zizou was given an opportunity. The infamous penalty kick…feared by keepers and praised on by goal scorers, like our aging legend, Zizou. Confidence flooding his 78 kilogram frame…with three effortless steps to the ball, our beloved Zizou buried the ball in the back left corner. G-o-o-o-o-o-a-alll!!!
As this legend of football prepares for his bowing out performance on the center stage of World Cup 2006…will he find the strength and heart to pull one more spectacular performance, can he seize the moment, capture it one more time and bring glory to his beloved country
Mindless people like L’Equipe, waste time talking of what he has done…that he cannot reproduce what he was in 1998, I say

Talk not of what he has done…but of what he will do.
Allez France, Allez Zizou!!!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Azzuri vs. Les Bleus for the World Cup Final


France 1 - Portugal 0

Finally, I can thank a team for upending this tournament's unlikely Cinderella heroes. For Team France, today's win will not only set up their meeting with Italy in the World Cup final, but also knock out the giant-killers of Team Portugal.

For me, the Portuguese squad has spelled doom for more than one of my potential favorites. In the round of 16, the Portuguese took out my boys in Orange, readily defeating the Netherlands in a game stained with blood and dirty play.

A round later, the boys from Lisbon sidestepped England, with a dramatic penalty shootout deciding the winner of the 0-0 draw. After predicting their defeat in round after round, I was beginning to think that the Portuguese might just go ALL the way.

Thanks be to Zinedine Zidane and the French National Soccer Team, for proving my fears to be nothing more than tepid paranoia.

I will admit that I missed the entire first half, and can therefore not comment directly on the ref's decision to award France a penalty kick in the 33rd minute. BUT, I can explain that when I saw that the game's only goal had been prompted by a ref's whistle I was a bit skeptical.

This past weekend, I was talking with an English supporter who lives down the street from me. His regret about England's loss to Portugal strikes a chord with today's game. Games won on penalty kicks are hardly a "proper result." Instead, true football fans must hope that games are decided by clean, fair, powerful goals, that have only poor defending and excellent markmanship to blame.

Nevertheless my hat goes off, again, to Zinedine Zidane and his heroics in the 33rd minute. Hitting home the penalty kick turned out to be the deciding goal, and only further cements the legend status the Zidane will endure indefinitely. France has had their share of soccer heroes, but NONE, not Platini, not Barthez, not Henry will ever rival the work of Zinedine Zidane. As he rides into the sunset of the World Cup final and prepares to retire from soccer forever, I can only tip my hat and bow down before the maestro. The French captain from Algeria has become one of the most important World Cup figures of all time.

Italy 2 - Germany

I hated to see the hometeam go down, but as the saying goes, "all good things must come to an end."

Watching almost all of this game, I was teased but seemingly hundreds of opportunities to score for both sides. The Germans certainly had their chances to put one away. Then again, the Italians were on constantly on the verge of sinking a goal, and had it not been for Jens Lehmann in net, the Germans might not have made it to extra time.

Unlike the other German matches of this tournament, Miroslav Klose seemed almost invisible. His touches were poor, his passing was weak, and his signature, dangerous assaults on net were held down to a uncharacteristically low number. Klose was off, and with his trouble came trouble for Team Germany.

Rising out of realitive International obscurity, German midfielder Odonkor had a fantastic game for the Germans. His tremendous energy in the game's closing minutes and in extra time revealed him to be a powerful offensive force for the German attack. But Odonkor was unable to put the ball in the net for the Germans and with his failure came Germany's exit from the World Cup.

When the game went into Extra Time, I began to fear that we might be seeing a repeat of the Germany - Argentina match-up from a week ago. I desperately hoped that the GERMANS would put a winner away, and allow the game to end in proper fashion.

I would never have expected the Italians to put TWO goals passed Jens Lehmann and the German defense in the final minutes of the second period of Extra Time.

The Italian Goals What can you say about such beautiful and precise game-winning goals. For the Azzuri, Del Piero became an essential substitute, and forward Pirlo provided the game-winning touch. The German defense has admitted the brillance of the Italian goals in interviews for the international media. After the Italians penetrated the German box in the 13th minute, the German defense expected the Italian assault to shoot directly on net. Instead, the Italians found Pirlo open on the right, and with a beautiful curving left, the Italian all-star put the game away. A few minutes later, in the 16th minute, Del Piero put away a second goal off his right, to completely end the game and Germany's impressive march through the competition.

I look forward to the French - Italian match- up.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Vive la France!

France 1 - Brazil

Can you spell overrated? Can you chant it at the top of your lungs? Can you spell Zinedine Zidane while waving les tricolores and crying so hard it hurts to smile?

I CAN.

I can spell Zidane everywhich way and thank god for making such a noble man to lead the French into their first final four since 1998. For Team France, the second half of the 2006 World Cup is looking a world better than it's opening round robin. After having trouble with Switzerland, Korea and even Togo, Team France is finally getting in form for the pivotal, championship deciding matches.

Today's decider was set up by none other than monsieur Zizou. With a beautiful ball over the box, Zidane hit teammate Thierry Henry for a wide open goal. The goal flies in the face of criticism that Henry did not work well with Zidane and that Henry had trouble finishing.

Maybe, but NOT today.

After putting away the game-winner, France went into a defensive shell. Fabien Barthez, the famous and eccentric French keeper, orchestrated a rock solid defense that constantly foiled the Brazilian attack.

The Brazilians looked completely out of form. While the French alternated long balls with short, crisp passing, the Brazilians looked slow and unpracticed. Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Kaka were veritable shadows of themselves.

Brazilian Hubris Brazil's fall from glory is nothing short of the humbling experience it's soccer stars require. Brazil has almost become synonymous with the World Cup. For those who know nothing about Soccer, Brazil is the "only" team. For the Brazilians, the world is a field of weaker, less skilled teams to be looked down upon.

The Brazilians have been growing more and more overconfident since their win in Korea. They are the periennial favorites. They are the gatekeepers. But France has played the role of Brazilian foil before. You may remember the '98 final in Paris, France, were Les Bleus shocked the world with a 2-0 upset of the yellow & green.

Predictions

Next weeks games will pit Germany against Italy and France against Portugal.

I pick Germany over Italy for many reasons. First, the Germans are at home. That's huge. When you're playing for keeps at home, you put it all on the line. Second, the Italians have never looked strong, and are full of weaknesses. Remember that these guys tied the US with a man advantage, and only exploded over Ukraine in the second half. Germany is well-tested, having defeated Argentina and will surely claim victory and head for the final. + Germany 2 - Italy 1

I pick France over Portugal because the French are hot, and inspired while Portugal has been pulling scrappy, dirty games for the whole of their tournament. Zidane wants to end in World Cup glory. His teammates want the same. Portugal is looking washed-up and keeps getting lucky. France has already upset the tournament and will not stop for anything now. France 1 - Portugal 0

For the Final Germany 2 - France 0

The Fall of the Light Brigade

Portugal 0 (3) - England 0 (1)

Falling in penalty kicks is the worst thing that can happen to a World Class soccer team. Just ask any member of the English National team or any of their millions of supporters around the world.

And yet, the Brits must realize their culpability in this defeat. For a team whose names are constantly among the stars, the Three Lions played like tired housecats in this afternoon's quarterfinal match-up. For every English attack, there were 4 or 5 dangerous, action-packed Portuguese offensives. For every English shot on net, there seemed to be 3 Portuguese shots. Portugal's attacks were executed with speed, precision and creativity. England's were slow, sloppy and predictable.

Even with such lackluster play, the Three Lions managed to fend off the near-constant Portuguese attacks and take several very good shots on net. Unfortunately for the Brits, Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo had an easy time reading the predictable and limited offensive chances.

Beckham Injury & Rooney Red Card It would be an understatement to say that these two events changed the outcome of today's game. Ten minutes after Beckham was subbed for an injury, the English won a free kick ten yards outside of the box. For a moment, the camera switched to Beckham's pained, unbroken stare. He knew, the Portuguese knew, and everyone in the world knew, that had HE been on the field for the play. England might well have gone one up.

Rooney's red card took out the other x-factor for the Three Lions. With English wonderboy on the bench, and his set-up man David Beckham injured, the Portuguese defense breathed easy, and changed their tactics to focus on swarming Crouch.

Peter Crouch I hope that this clumsy, slow and stupid striker never plays for England again. I know that his entrance was brought on by Rooney's red card, but why won't the English manager ever look at some of his other offensive options. Peter Crouch needs about 15 chances on net before he'll have something that looks remotely like a dangerous play. His footskills are weak and his finishing is atrocious. Why doesn't anyone else understand that Peter Crouch ruins good passes like bad rum ruins good coke.

For the English, today's loss is not only the end of the line, but the end of an era. David Beckham will unlikely play in the next world cup, and with a generation of English stars phasing out in the next four years, England's prowess on the international will surely crumble. Many, many people (OK, me) believed that this was the year for Team England. It should have been. While the Portuguese deserve today's win and will surely fight for their first World Cup win, I regret England's exit and expect Portugal's dismissal against France/Brazil in the next round.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Germans spell GUTTERDAMERUNG for Argentina

In Germanic lore, Gutterdamerung is the 'twilight of the gods', the eventual death and fall of the powerful Norse tradition.

But today, against Argentina, the word came to bear new meaning as a young, underestimated German squad overcame the explosive, highly ranked Argentinians.

Until today, Argentina was considered the odds-on favorite to finish as World Cup runners-up to Brazil. Now, the betting masters will have to find a new runner-up.

As in all the German matches, the difference was made by German 'wunderman' Miroslav Klose. The German striker hit solid gold in the 80th with a header delivering Deutschland from the jaws of defeat.

Two 15 minute overtimes were not enough to change the scoreline for the Germans or for the Argentinians. This lazy play set-up, do or die penalty kicks.

Here, the Germans exposed another of their many weapons. With German keeper Jens Lehmann in net, the Germans were able to put away 4 PK's to Argentina's 2. Lehmann was really the deciding factor here, as stopping PK's in World Cup competition is on par with robbing a Swiss bank in the middle of the day. It should not be possible.

Regardless, Lehmann's superb form sealed the German victory and advancement. Next week, the Germans will face Italy (as the victors in a Ukrainian match-up) and will take their shot at the World Cup final.

With Klose and Lehmann in the line-up, plus a entire nation in support, the Germans may very well win the whole thing, if they can get a couple of lucky breaks.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

'Give Soccer a Chance' - Newport Mercury Cup Coverage

Last week, I was fortunate enough to help spread the gospel of soccer to the entire Newport, RI area with the help of the Newport Mercury. The article was entitled 'Give soccer a chance,' and like I do here just about everyday, it was about this year's World Cup.

For those of you who did not see this article, a fantastic AP photo of Nedved and Donovan accompanied the text, and a full schedule was listed in a column along the article's side.

Most importantly, however, was the shout-out to this World Cup blog that the article featured in italics as a footer.

For those of you who want to see the original, go to
newportmercury.com/articles/2006/6/21/features/features2.txt

Otherwise read a copy of the text below.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read up on my rants and raves, your comments, criticisms, thoughts and opinions are always appreciated.
Give Soccer a Chance

Brazil has won 5 crowns, Italy and Germany 3, Argentina 2. The U.S. has never won the World Cup. And don't get your hopes up this year either.

BY ZACHARY McCUNE

If you are an American, the World Cup may be nothing more than an interruption of quality baseball: Who the hell are these Brazilian guys?! Where do I have to go to watch the Sox?

Most Americans view soccer with the sort of contempt bikers reserve for helmets. Although the sport has enjoyed being America's most popular youth sport, it is often considered to be a just children's game - something to outgrow and abandon, not a game to hone for the sake of national glory.

But for lots of people, the World Cup is the most important event of the year. National pride rides on victory or defeat. Huge sums of money are won and lost. Heroes are forged and rivalries created. It is the penultimate athletic competition of a global society. It is the defining championship of the world's most popular sport.

And so, with a worldwide media blitz of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, it may be time to give soccer a second chance. Take a look, watch some games, and give David Beckham more than a jealous stare; this is the World Cup we're talking about, and that means "party" in 32 different countries.

The World Cup is the international championship of soccer. It pits 32 national teams against each other every four years with the chance to win World soccer supremacy. Before teams can even play at the World Cup, they must qualify through international competition. To secure a World Cup berth, teams must win, or place highly in their respective continental groups. The USA qualified by winning the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). England qualified finishing over Poland in their UEFA (European League) grouping.

Once the teams have formally qualified, they are randomly split into eight groups of four. These groups, labeled by letters A through H, represent the first part of the competition. Each member of the group must play all of the other teams for a Round Robin-style mini-tournament. The top two teams from each group advance.

The winning teams and finalists of the "mini-tournaments" must compete in a single elimination competition. Like the Final Four, this round quickly halves the field of competitors from 16 to eight to four and then to the final two.

This year, Germany plays host to the world's most celebrated international championship. With a national infrastructure of renovated stadiums, hotels and soccer villages, the Germans have invested a lot in the competition. Nevertheless, the enormous influx of fans, families and tourists is sure to stimulate the German economy and give it a month of unrivalled prosperity.

This year's tournament has been dominated by European teams who feel a sense of home-court advantage as they play in Europe for the first time in eight years. Among the European favorites is England, captained by poster-boy David Beckham and stocked with a field full of international superstars. France, too, has an impressive array of star power including Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry. The French won the tournament at home in 1998.

Of course, whenever you talk about the World Cup you talk about Brazil, and this year is no exception. With striker Ronaldinho fresh off a Champions League title and star forward Ronaldo still in the mix, Brazil is heavily favored to win the whole thing as it did in Korea four years ago.

Unfortunately for the Americans, their 3-0 thrashing by the Czech Republic in round 1 has all but eliminated the chance of advancing. After almost a year of hype, and an impressive campaign to the CONCACAF title, the Americans completely fell apart in round 1. Their defeat dealt a deathblow to growing domestic interest, as the desire to support a losing team is anything but American.

The American rebound against the Italians may have opened the window for advancement, but it may be too little too late. The draw showed a great improvement for the Americans and may have finally proven to Europe that the U.S. has arrived. Sadly, the boys in red, white and blue are now dependent on other teams and other wins to take them through.

With lots more soccer play, and any number of World Cup legends yet to be made, try getting around domestic prejudices and giving European football a shot. With world soccer supremacy and international street cred hanging in the balance, you might be glad you did.

Zachary McCune blogs daily about the World Cup at www.the2006worldcup

germany.blogspot.com/.