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World Cup 2006 Postmortem
Zizou, Despite and Still

This was a World Cup of ironies and heartbreak.  Irony number one: France managed to beat perhaps the three strongest teams coming out of group play, Spain, Brazil, and Portugal, yet bungled the final.  Irony number two: the American side managed its only point in group play against the eventual cup winner; Italy’s only blemish came against the lowly Americans.  Irony three: one the Cup’s great young players, Rooney, and its great veteran, Zidane, end the tournament with reds.  Irony number four: who would have guessed that the Cup would be held aloft by the team embroiled in a gambling controversy?  Irony number five: a delicious historical one, that the multiethnic French side would waltz into Hitler’s stadium at the top of the football world, continuing Jesse Owens’ assault on supposed Aryan supremacy. It would be a sad final note if, as has  so far only been whispered, Zidane’s ouster was precipitated by a racial slur that sidetracked his and his team’s glorious return to the finals.  What a story a victory by the French side would have been... France returns to triumph in Germany, in Hitler’s own stadium.  

But that is one of the heartbreaks of this tournament.  We cannot really enjoy Italy’s victory coming as it did. The story today is not Italy, but Zidane. His silence (I certainly can’t find a meaningful quote from Zidane... but maybe I haven’t looked hard enough) only deepens the angst: what was he thinking?  How could he have done such a thing?  We look for logic. He must have had a reason.  Was it the constant assault from the Italian defenders, the uncalled fouls as Zizou tried to build an attack, that caused him to lash out?  Did he see the end result in his mind’s eye and choose not to stick around for it? Did he react to one of the racial slurs that seem to follow the players of African descent? At some point we’ll know the story, and we can only hope that there is some explanation that will return to Zidane some of the honor he earned for France.

Meanwhile we are left with a hollow victory for Italy, thanks to a mind-numbingly dull retreat into “dead-bolt” defense and a phenomenal effort by Buffon, the air-tight Italian keeper. It was not a stylish, bold or beautiful game like the French played in their win over Brazil in the 1998 final. But a Cup is a Cup.  And they did what they needed to do to get it... they held on for penalty kicks and the expected collapse of Barthez. Buffon only had to be one better, and he was. 

But the story of this World Cup is not Italy; it is, and always will be, Zidane. 

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