Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

World Cup Aftermath

It’s not going to change anybody’s mind about soccer. If you hated it going in, you still hate it. If you tolerated it, maybe you saw the pros and cons of it, and came away feeling about the same. And if you’re a fan, you thought it was part what’s good about the game and part what’s wrong about the game.

Italy won on penalty kicks, taking their fourth World Cup and playing to their strengths. I thought the referee did a pretty good job after the first five minutes, letting the play on the field get physical enough but not out of hand. If there’s one thing people who don’t like the game can point to it’s the acting that goes on after every play with contact. They don’t necessarily flop as much in England or in Germany, but most of the rest of Europe and all of South America have the flop as part of the culture of the game.

And Americans hate that.

Until the game is allowed to be “played” on the pitch instead of “acted” out there, it’ll always be a passing fancy among fans. Too subjective.

Every time Marcelo Balboa said “he really sold that one” it made me cringe, thinking “is selling the contact to the ref really a part of the competition?” Sure, players flop in the NBA, but with three officials on the court, a guy who’s acting soon gets a reputation and play goes on.

The ref in the World Cup final got the game under control and let just enough physical play dictate the flow of the game. The penalty in the box called against Italy was totally a phantom call, “sold” by the French and converted by Zinedine Zidane. The Italian goal on the corner kick was textbook and allowed the Italians to go back into their defensive posture, exactly what they did to get to the final.

France played the more aggressive game in the second half, and was nearly rewarded by a beautiful header by Zidane, but a spectacular save by the Italian goalkeeper kept the score tied. That’s when things started to go sideways for both teams, especially the French.

It was apparent that, barring something-strange happening, the outcome was going to penalty kicks. Totti was out of the game for Italy, replaced for a sub, even though he is one of their best free kickers. Theirry Henry came out of the game after regulation, one of the free kickers the French could have used. Then Zidane head butted Marco Materazzi for something he said about his sister and was red carded out of the game, denying the French of another of their best free-kickers.

Nobody wants to see a game determined by penalty kicks, but that’s all they’ve got right now, and the Italians finally won one, having gone 0-3 in World Cup play in games decided by pk’s.

When Zidane head butted Materazzi, I was amazed and still think it might be the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in big time sports. This is truly the world’s biggest stage. 1.5 Billion people were watching or about one of every six people on the planet. And many of those don’t know anything about the game or about Zidane’s career, which means that their only memory of Zidane will be as “the head butt guy.”

But that’s OK as well.

I’ve heard more “cooler talk” about the World Cup this week than at any other time thanks to Zidane’s actions. He apologized to the kids who might have been watching, but said “I would have rather taking a fist to the jaw than heard what was said about my family.” I don’t know, trash talk is a part of all sports these days, and Zidane should have had some retorts of his own. Or just let it go away.