Merde A La Puissance Treize!

Congratulations to Italy, the team that didn’t deserve to win.

For the duration of the first 45 minutes, I fully expected Italy to win because they dominated the field, holding on to the ball at an approximate 60% rate. But France controlled the second 45 minutes, and the first and second 15 minutes of the Extra Time. So, in essence, France dominated and controlled the pitch a much stronger and longer 75 minutes.

In terms of strategy, coordination, execution and timing, France was the stronger of the two teams. But, Buffon is immaculate, and Barthez is old; there is no comparison between the skill of these two men, Buffon being the stronger and faster of the two.

You already know how I feel about the damned penalty kicks and so now I’ll offer you my proposed alternative to the damned penalty kicks: Instead of whittling this team sport down to one-on-one luck, allow them to play the Extra Time as they do now. Then, shorten the periods down to 5 minutes, and allow for sudden death…only, before the first 5 minute period and in between every period, remove one player per team.

Unlike the damned penalty kicks, this allows for the strategy and team-work to dominate and play out, the two elements that are the heart and the essence of futbol.

Now. Naturally, the pressing question is: Merde a la puissance treize! Mais pourquoi est-ce que vous avez fait ça, Zizou? This is a man whose futbol career has been notoriously calm, without violence or altercation, a man whose reputation has been built on both his skill and demeanor. Because his is one of the few careers I’ve followed and because it’s always been clean and within the spotlight of grace, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Anyone who knows anything about futbol and Zizou will argue that Zizou’s bull-like attack on the Italian player had to have been preceded by something exceptionally foul on the Italian player’s part.

Although I want to know what the catalyst for Zizou’s reaction was, he deserved that red card and I clapped when the referee issued it. (There has never been, and there should never be room for this sort of violence in futbol.) No matter what was said to him, his behavior was unacceptable. Whatever happens now should serve as an explanation for his action, but never a justification for it.

I expect an official statement will be issued; Either Zizou will explain why he did what he did and France will start WWIII will require an official apology from the Italian player, or Ziznou will simply state that there was no excuse for his action and so merely issue an apology to both the Italian player and to France.

Unfortunately, the image of Zizou attacking the Italian player will become among the most notorious moments in the history of World Cup futbol. Notorious because it came from the most unexpected of individuals, near the end of the second Extra Time of a final match, and at the retirement of one of the greatest futbolers my generation has seen.

Chirac has just issued this statement and I think he’s made it clear what and who Zizou really is: “I would like to express all the respect that I have for a man who represents at the same time all the most beautiful values of sport, the greatest human qualities one can imagine, and who has honoured French sport and, simply, France.”

Salaam Zizou: may retirement treat you well and I’ll be looking for your face in the sea of South Africa’s audience. (& even though you headbutted another guy, you’re still my hero.)