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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

World Cup of Coffee: The Last Hurrah

I thought I would do one final World Cup of Coffee, but first let me say that it's been great fun and that I have really appreciated all the discussion in the comments section. A few brief reflections on the World Cup final: it was not the finest match of the tournament but it certainly had its moments of drama. Italy had the better first half, but France dominated afterwards. It's interesting, however, that France never scored a goal in the run of play from the quarterfinals on. They struggled to finish and it cost them against Italy. One reason may be not putting Henry in the best position to score. Italy looked a shell of the classy team that battled Germany and scored two remarkable goals in the final moments before penalties. I think they were spent after two extra time matches and just able to hang on. But props to them for making all of their penalties.

As for Zidane, you can read my thoughts here as well as in the comments section of that post. Suffice to say that despite a classic performance against Brazil and a very good display against Spain, he did not deserve the Golden Ball. The red card was uncalled for, regardless of what Materazzi said. I'm sure whatever he said was unpleasant and unsportsmanlike, but reacting in such a way played right into his hands.

So let's hear your thoughts on the following questions:
1) Best player?
2) Best match?
3) Biggest (pleasant) surprise?
4) Most disappointing team?
5) Best goal?

Here are my answers:
1) Fabio Cannavaro, Italy: dominant display from the back set up the Italian attack. Only two goals allowed the entire tournament--an own-goal and penalty kick--and he was a huge reason why. He was world-class and now probably headed to Real Madrid.
2) Hmmmmm. I really enjoyed Argentina-Mexico. Lots of up-and-down action and great goals, especially Maxi Rodriguez's winner. France-Brazil right up there as well with a masterful Zidane display and Henry goal. But let's not forget Germany-Italy, either. What a war, with both teams attacking and the Italians scoring two dramatic late goals to win it. Not sure I can pick one from these three! I'll go with the latter simply b/c of the stakes (berth in final) and with Germany being the host.
3) Most pleasant surprise? Ghana has to be pleased coming out of a a difficult Group E. But I'm going with Germany, who confounded expectations with a semifinal run and with an entertaining, attacking style that won fans and silenced critics.
4) Most disappointing team was Brazil in my book. Too much talent to look this out of synch. Players on the field that shouldn't have been. Ronaldinho marginalized. I know they can't win it every time, but they could have and should have done better with this squad.
5) The best goal competition is down to three in my book. Chronological: First, the 24-pass Argentinian goal against Serbia & Montenegro. Second, the Joe Cole wonder volley off the chest against Sweden. Third, the Maxi Rodriguez volley off the chest to beat Mexico. The latter finishes were more spectacular, and the Rodriguez goal meant more at the time, but I've got to go with the 24-pass goal finished by Cambiasso. That teamwork, patience, unselfishness and style is what football is about.

A random thought: Did anyone notice Marcel Balboa's comment when Zidane hurt his shoulder in the final? Zidane signaled to the sideline with his hand and Balboa asserted that he was asking to be subbed out. Um, wasn't it clear that he was waving the medical people onto the field to attend to him? That seemed obvious to me. Is there any chance that Zidane would ever ask to be subbed in the second half of a World Cup final?

My personal favorite moment of the World Cup: Oliver Kahn extending the olive branch, a handshake and quiet words of encouragment to old rival Jens Lehmann just before Lehmann stopped two Argentinian penalty kicks. Apparently the German crowd saw it on the Jumbotron and, knowing the history between the two, roared their approval. Great stuff.

Here are some of the better World Cup retrospectives from the writers of The Guardian, James Lawton of The Independent, Jamie Trecker from Fox Soccer Channel, and ESPNsoccernet's Jen Chang.

TV ratings were strong in the United States for the World Cup final. The numbers of people who watched it on ABC and Univision were more than the NBA finals and equal with the NCAA basketball title game and the World Series. Not bad. Nevertheless, we still see the usual spate of 'Why Soccer Won't Catch on in the United States' articles like this one.

Zidane Watch: The effort to discern what Marco Materazzi said to set Zinedine Zidane off descends into farce. The lip-reading profession is really taking a hit with this one. FIFA is going to investigate the incident. Check out this fascinating article from The Independent discussing the meaning of Zidane to French culture and politics. Oh, and the French paper Liberation offers this money quote: For over a month, France dreamt with Zidane. This morning, she will wake up with Chirac. Classic.

England Whine Watch: England's players continue to pour blame on now-former coach Sven Goran Eriksson. Michael Owen has become prolific in his written assessments of the team. Has a team ever made so many excuses? It's getting embarrassing. Can't remember where I read it, but apparently at least half of England's starters are writing autobiographies that will in part address this World Cup failure. Hey Gerrard and Lampard, how about starting with your penalty kicks? I believe the team was poorly coached, but Sven didn't cause Lampard to miss over 20 shots on goal, did he? Anyway, here is a discussion of England's future prospects.

Klinnsman for US Coach Watch: Faithful reader Expat Teacher was hot on the trail of this story. Klinnsman is set to step down as Germany's coach. Remember, he lives in California with an American wife and kids. Please, please, please, please, please coach the US team. I'll even wear those tight-fitting, sleaves-rolled-up oxford shirts if you do.

Thanks folks, it's been a pleasure!

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