Explain That to AYSO, Zidane
07.10.2006 06:54 | DISPATCHES
Until mid-century, when Latinos are projected to become the majority in the US, soccer may never be a major sport in the US. Nevertheless, this year's World Cup generated much fervor in the US. While our validation of the object of other nations' passion may no longer be of any consequence to them, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) is hardly averse to expanding its market in the US.
But soccer shot itself in the foot with Sunday's final. In fact, when it comes to disgracefulness, the World Cup runneth over.
First, the athletic French team played like an advertisement for the sport (until Zidane went insane). But the Italians appeared content to play defense from halftime on and place their fate in the hands of all-galaxy goaltender Gianluigi Buffon. It was the equivalent of a Super Bowl in which one team spends the second half running on almost every down even though it wasn't ahead. In other words, it would never happen.
Second, the Italian strategy only reinforced the World Cup trend which renders regulation play meaningless. Low-scoring ties or no score at all necessitate extra-time on a regular basis. Third, the game is then decided by penalty kicks, which puts the goalie in an untenable, no-win position.
Fourth, because no human can react fast enough to stop a penalty kick, the goalies have to rely on guesswork to anticipate the direction of the kick. The first time I saw a goalie leaping in the opposite direction, I thought, you've got to be kidding. This is how you determine the outcome of an important game? The "golden goal," or as it's called in American football, sudden death, may have been done away with in extra-time because it was deemed unfair. But where's the justice in putting a goalie at the mercy of mind games?
Then, finally, came Zidane. His earlier understated masterpiece of a penalty kick notwithstanding, his vicious head-butt to Marco Materazzi spelled disaster for France. So what if Materazzi, whose penchant for crudeness was well-known, called Zidane's wife a puttana or something. Was that worth throwing the World Cup out the window?
Embattled French coach Raymond Domenech admitted that "we can say that Zidane being sent off was the moment that killed the game. Especially in extra time -- the Italians were obviously waiting for the penalty shootout."
It's also a slap in the face to worldwide soccer youth, especially in the US, where AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) has become as entrenched as Little League. Tell the kids how another player called your wife a whore, Zidane.
Meanwhile, it's got to be galling to soccer how the World Cup only fuels America's sense of its own exceptionalism. Can you imagine Michael Jordan cold-cocking John Stockton in the closing minutes of one of the Bulls two championships against the Jazz? We already look down on the French for their supposed duplicitousness and laugh at the Italians for what we perceive as their antics.
Perhaps worst of all, while Zidane describes himself as a "non-practicing Muslim," nevertheless, according to Wikipedia, his first name, Zinedine, means "Ornament of the Faith" in Arabic; his family name: "Increases or Grows the Faith." After bin Laden, he's probably the most famous Muslim in the Western World. Whether or not Muslims interpret Zidane's act as a legitimate expression of asymmetric warfare, it's yet another embarrassment for the Muslim world.