THE BLOG

Oh, Zidane, Zidane, What Have You Done?

So much for scenarios.

Yesterday was supposed to be the Grand Au Revoir to the Great Man, regardless of outcome.

Instead, disgrace. Creepiness. A sense of culminating disgust.

Here on Monday, waiting for Zizou's account of the infamous words from Italy's Mazeratti that provoked that red-card hooligan nuttery---I gotta say: That was one of the most bizarre, and again, creepy moments in sport I've ever been party to.

I watched the game in restaurant on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, jam-packed inside and out. We were screaming and roaring for I-TAL-IA!!

Then the whole thing went sour, and weird, when Zidane did his thing. The game dwarfed by this "act of tragic suicide" (as someone in shock said at our table.) And in front of one billion viewers, no less.

Maybe this World Cup, so hyped, so dud-crammed, got the final it deserved.

Consider the ironies yesterday. Zidane ends his resurrected career, from useless old geezer to hero to bad-sportsman ignominy. How will his career ever be recalled without this bit (and butt) of infamy? (My friend Andrew, a cultural studies professor, says "the lofty hermeneut within me saw it as the supreme existentialist gesture---le grand refus---at the very moment of being inducted into multicultural sainthood by Chirac.")

But what if Materazzi, whom an Italian friend of mine calls the dirtiest player in Italy (for what that's worth) had said something racist?

This is, after all, a World Cup where games start with a reading of an anti-racism proclamation by each team's captain. The soccer authorities will be investigating this red card, as they do all red cards: What happens if they learn that Materazzi played the race gambit? (Not to forget the story going round now that he had tweaked Zidane's nipple). (Cute, these soccer fellas).

Also: FIFA made a big point today that video review was not (repeat in a Claude Rains accent: NOT ) involved in spotting the head butt, even though many commentators said the refs hadn't a clue. (It was so loud in our restaurant, we never heard any commentary on ABC, a small blessing). FIFA, you see, is very sensitive on the issue of the video replays and the refs' authority.

The refereeing has been, of course, terrible this tournament, in good part because FIFA instructed the zebras to crack down on fouls and unsportsmanship by flashing cards. Apparently this caused most refs to surrender common sense of any kind.

Refs seem unable to follow the game properly. For instance, on TV replays the penalty awarded to France last night sure looked phony. This is a ruinous issue: the modern style of forward play is to bring the ball into the penalty area with the purpose of drawing any kind of contact or phantom contact, and then going down, to draw the foul.

So after a month, some thoughts:

Italy is very good team, not a great one. (And when the new season starts in fall, for what new clubs will half of them be playing, thanks to their football scandal at home?)

In terms of soccer, this was a tournament of duds, a beautiful expensive bouquet of flowers whose buds don't open. Glorious joyous (yawn) Brazil and Ronaldhino. England and its "best midfield in the world" (what a dreary appallingly managed joke). Spain, so teasingly marvelous in the first game, and then, como siempre. The US of A, rated how high again? And those flying Czechs...

Mexico-Argentina did give us a great match, Mexico playing with such valor and energy and force (how come not all the time?) . Maxi Rodriguez's perfectly struck lucky cannonball from distance was best-of-the-tournament individual shot; Argentina's 24-pass-and-a-back-heel beaut was the best of the group efforts.

But then Argentina's coach, Pekerman, lost his nerve and kept his best players on the bench against Germany.

Germany gave us maybe the most entertaining team, offensive, exuberant and always attacking. A German team of good spirits, what a strange thing to say after me Yankee-hating Germany for so many years. (Though the Germany-France match of 1982 was the greatest world Cup match ever).

Portugal and Holland gave us an unforgettable match, thanks to the ref mainly. Though the Dutch fouling on Ronaldo was truly disgraceful. (Van Basten, Holland's coach, was a glorious player whose career was shortened by fouling!) But then a Portuguese player committed an egregious, and uncarded, foul on Holland's flying flopping Robben too.

Portugal has some great talent, a wonderful character of a coach in Big Phil Scolari. But maybe a "moral deficit," as an American friend put it. Their diving and flopping was like a Saturday Night Live skit. And let's not forget their disgraceful behavior in the last EuroCup (was it?) when they surrounded the referee in over-the-top dissent and were punished (I'm recalling this on seat of pants).

But floppers were everywhere, of course. Henry of France against Spain. The Italian who flopped to get the penalty against Australia. Ukraine's Shevchenko swanning in the box. The roll call goes on and on.

Maybe for a year or two soccer needs to have video examinations after every game and dispense (and rescind) calls here that the ref got wrong. Maybe we need a second ref too. And a long talk with the players.

I think also the actual new fancy football was too much, a veritable plastic beach ball out there. A problem not just for goalies but for field players. Maybe that partly caused the wonderful Ghanaians to shoot so wildly when they got into the penalty area against Brazil. (Er, maybe not). But Ghana certainly would have benefited from their best player, Michael Essien, being on the field. But he was suspended, thanks, naturally, to a dubious second yellow card earlier.

My happiest memories, really, are of the places where I watched here in multi-ethnic NYC: the Argentinean steak house and the Ecuadorian bar, in Queens; the Austrian restaurant in Tribeca, jammed with delighted and delightful Germany supporters... and yesterday's madhouse in Little Italy, unmanned in its fun by one bald grizzled Frenchmen.

Oh, Zidane Zidane, what have you done?