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.