Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Italy bury the shoot-out ghost - Finally

What a great leveller sport is? Ask David Trezeguet. It seems just yesterday when it was another Italy Vs France Finale in Euro 2000 and Trezeguet fired in a 'golden goal' to sink many an Italian heart by stealing the European Championship from right under their nose in a classic final. Six years gone by and Trezeguet again turned out to be the decisive factor in another cup final contested between these two nations - this time even bigger, the world cup final. As a commentator remarked when Trezeguet's penalty kick hit the cross-bar and just fell an inch ahead of the goal line "That will be the longest inch in French football". That was the inch that stood between France and a second world title. Yet in sport there can be only one winner who takes it all - and this time it was Italy who after 24 years and countless penalty shoot-out heartbreaks finally conquered the top step of the podium.
With the Zidane incident making all the headlines, there is hardly anyone talking about Trezeguet's heart-breaking miss. To the French and their countless supporters, the cup was over and lost a good 20 mins before that fatal Trezeguet shot when the greatest of them all decided to use his head on the wrong object - an opponents chest. The head which, 5 minutes back had almost given France the winning goal only to be denied by a stunning save (should I say a world cup winning save) from Buffon.
There is no use talking about it again and again. Every news channel, every website and every mail that I receive talks about the same thing. But let us not hold Zizou responsible for France losing the cup. Maybe he would have been instrumental in getting that winning goal - 12 minutes is a long time in football. But for 109 minutes it did not happen. Trezeguet would have anyways taken one of the kicks. That was destiny.
Whatever said and done what Zizou did was out of instinct. Most geniuses are hot headed - McEnroe, Maradona, Senna were some of them. The sport needs people like this. If the sport is filled with only perfectionists like Federer and Alonso then where will the fun element come from? It is this flow of adrenaline which makes a sport like football the egde-of-the-seat-stuff that it is. France has forgiven Zizou and so have I as a fan of the last great creative play-maker. I am sure this incident will just appear as a footnote when we remember this great player who has given so much to the sport.

I would not like to say anything else on Zizou as enough has been spoken already but I would like to share the thoughts of my friend Santanu Sen Gupta who had to say this:
"All news channels are saying the same thing. Whatever Zidane has done in the last match of his career is a red card offense. And there is no doubt the referee has done a proper job after taking expected care in handling the situation. Doesn't matter whether being informed by the 4th referee or video footage. It is also a sad incidence that Football's last emperor (read magician) has had to conclude his last international match with such a sad note. Being his ardent supporters half of the world is also feeling sad.

But we should be proud of Zidane for his act. At least I am feeling proud for my hero that he kept his head high despite of a known punishment for this act. Zidane can not be blamed for France loosing out in the Final. He made his side World Champion in 1998 (comparable only with Diego Maradona). He made his country European Champions in 2000. He was selected World's Footballer of the year for three times. He bought back the golden era of Real Madrid. He pulled France from garbage bin during the pre world cup qualifiers this time and it is for Zidane the French had come to play the finals as group champions. He inspired France to reach the Final. And of course it is a fact that the most talked about (read hyped) "World Footballers of the Years" have been seriously fallen short of his caliber twice in the "World's most coveted venue", the World cup (1998 and 2006). France would have any way lost in this final. A team which could not score from 5 clear chances in the World Cup final just because of positioning of the players should not win. This shows lack of motivation and judgment in the team. And David Trezeguet would have any way missed the penalty even if Zidane went on taking the second shot. This was destiny.

It has also been reported by a lot of news channels that along with Materazzi, Buffon also was abusing Zidane whenever possible. This was very loud and clear especially after he saved Zidane's header. Tactics of sledging has been predominant in Cricket because it is a game of politeness in disguise. Such act of sledging was never heard in Football since verbal abuse is not required when there are enough opportunities of physical abuse (like De Rossi's great elbow) since being a body contact game. Few Italians did adapted a very nasty technique to block Zidane which is a hateful act. And the more I am reading about the incidence on Sunday evening I am loosing my respect for those who were involved in such mean act and their coach who, instead of showing them the right direction, rather encouraged it. This behaviour of Italians and their roughness were demonstrated during US and Australian matches. Italians saved these two matches only by hitting the players without ball and by act of sledging. Luca Tony is another champion of this act while he does this with the opponent's goal keeper and backs.

The entire Cricket world feels proud of our Sunny Gavaskar who raised an active protest against Australian sledging by calling of his team from the field. In Cricket sledging is a highly punishable act if proven and this may cause the players involved a long term ban from the game. But Football does not have such rules since being principally the game of poors and lower class people, whereas cricket is considered as a game of rich and elite class people (while this is not the fact).

If we feel proud for Sunny Gavaskar for his protest, we should be proud of Zidane also who protested such nasty act appropriately".
That was a passionate write-up by Santa and as I sign-off, I would like to congratulate the Italian team for winning the world cup and bringing so much happiness to a soccer-crazy nation. They thoroughly deserved this cup inspired by brilliant performances by Cannavaro and Buffon.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

GROSSO Magic!!!! German Heartbreak!!! The Game Wins

As the world cup progressed into the knock-out stages I just prayed that it is not a repeat of 2002 where Senagal and South Korea spoilt everything and denied us the pleasure to watch classics displayed by the super-powers in the climax to the once-in-four-years show. My prayers were answered and we had a dream QF line-up which ensured dream semis and a finale. And yet as I sat watching the tense, hard-fought Italy-Germany battle, I just realized that we had watched 339 minutes of soccer (injury time excluded) with teams like England, Portugal, Brazil, France Italy and Germany fielding the biggest names in the game and yet we had only one Thierry Henry goal to really write home about. This was when all these teams mentioned were going all out to win.
Just when yet another 90 minutes of play ended at 0-0 last night, I somehow hoped that we get an extra time much like that great semi-final in 1970 contested by these 2 teams. My hopes were suddenly illuminated as Italy twice hit the cross-bar in the first 2 minutes and then Buffon pulled off a stunning save to thwart a Podolski thunderbolt. But still the goal would not come. I was slowly beginning to lose faith in the game. How can we have a stalemate all the time? Why cant the game produce a winner? I thought all the time. As the clock ticked by I was more and more sure that the Germans would reach the final on penalties.
Reaching a world cup final without winning either the Quarter Final or the Semis against some top contenders - that is not what the game wanted.
But 2 minutes was all that was left and one final corner for Italy. Almost all of previous Italy's previous corners resulted in catching practice for Jans Lehmann and I most certainly thought this one would be too. But my faith in the game was to be restored. The game finally won and Grosso (the man who broke the Aussie heart) performed magic which ensured that we will have a winner. Italy deserved it. Such a hard-fought game where neither side ever stopped attacking deserved it. And of course, the fans deserved it too. The Gilardino-Del Piero 1-2 on the counter immediately was just the icing on the cake. To be fair to the brave Germans who fought every inch, I must say even if they had scored the winner and won they would havebeen worthy winners as well inspite of the fact that Italy was marginally a better side on the day.
So, now we can be proud that we watched a semi-final to cherish where Italian magic prevailed at the end against a partisan German crowd and a very resilient and fighting German team who can hold their heads high.
Now, the situation again reminds us of a bit of history though not related to the world cup. Italy in the final beating the hosts, France Vs Portugal in the 2nd semi-final. The situation is a carbon-copy of Euro2000 - one of the best tournaments in recent times.
As for my comment earlier with respect to the dearth of goals, I would say when you have defenders like Cannavaro and goal-keepers like Buffon and Lehmann, this will be the lasting trend. I guess these people will not even let a tennis ball go through them.