Monday, July 10, 2006

Azzurri Defeat Les Bleus, Win 4th World Cup Title

Italy 1-1 France. a.e.t.(5-3 PSO).
I went to Dolores Park in SF to watch the match with a group of friends: my sister, her friend DF, SJ, A7, and his buddy the ManUtd supporter. I prepared 3 liters of mimosas and 3 liters of sangria, and we stopped at Noah's on the way for bagels & coffee. It was pretty fun, I would say about 3,000 people were there, and it was the hottest day of the year - probably 80 and sunny, although Twin Peaks, only a mile away, was completely fogged in. I especially enjoyed getting to watch the match with my good friend A7, a big time Azzurri fan. I had told A7 before the WC that the key for the Azzurri was trying to avoid wearing those absolutely horrid white sweatervest away uniforms. They made it all the way through without having to wear them, and when I found out it was France that had to wear white today I told him that Italy had a great shot to win. We showed up an hour before the match and I thought, "Damn, we're far away. Should have gotten here at 9 - kinda sucks that we'll be in the back". As more & more people showed up we ended up closer to the front than the back. Anyhow, this is what the scene was like at the park from someone else's vantage point.

Dolores Park between full time and extra time.

I celebrated the occasion with the most Euro-tastic haircut I could conjure up, a rooster mohawk thingy that served as an homage to France's sporting symbol, Le Coq Sportif. Myself, A7, and his friend the ManU fan celebrated the occasion with mimosa and then sangria.

Azzurri A7 & Les Bleus Kanu pregame:
which jersey is about to be short a star?

Oh, the match. Right. The penalty was pretty soft. Looked worse in real time, so I can understand how the referee gave it, but the replay showed just a little contact from Cosmo Kramer Materazzi. Zizou always curls his PKs left into the side panel. For whatever reason he decided to go with the cheeky chip; usually when players do this they just chip it down the middle and kind of low, the keeper dives, and there you go. But Zizou went even cheekier. He took a pretty big swing under the ball - reminded me of a Phil Mickleson flop shot from just off the green, and his cheeky chip went high and to the right. It hit the bar and came down a foot behind the line. To even attempt this in a World Cup final takes absolute balls of steel, and he was very lucky to get away with it. "Mighty cheeky" indeed. 2" higher and he would have missed. Anyhow, 1-0 to France. After this Italy had the better of it for a while and got a deserved equalizer on a Materrazzi header from a Pirlo corner. Materrazzi is a big dude, but still did amazingly well to outjump 6'4" Patrick Vieira and head home. I've seen PV4 play probably 300+ times, and I can't ever remember seeing a dude out jump him an beat him to a header that both players contested. Just a fabulous goal. A few more good chances for each team, the best being Luca Toni's header from a corner which rattled off the crossbar.

So 1-1 at halftime and Italy definitely had the better of it in the first half. France came out strong in the 2nd half and started to assert themselves more. Personally I was extremely sad when Vieira, one of my 2 favorite players in the world, had to leave the match around the 55th minute with a pulled hamstring. Up until that point I thought he was France's best player (along with Thuram); he bossed the midfield and completely shutdown Totti, won a bunch of 50/50 balls, etc., etc. Then about 10 minutes later a truly bizarre moment occurred when the camera flashed into the stands and showed none other than Billy Clint. Very random, and funny that the SF crowd gave a huge cheer. France should have been awarded a penalty, but it was not given. Understandable, since the one given in the first half was so soft, so I would say between the two it came out even or as it should have overall. France really had the better of it in the 2nd half, although Italy's Luca Toni scored a classic counter-attacking headed goal that was ruled offside. They only showed the replay one time, and at the park he definitely looked offside. Last night on the replay I realized that it was another player who was offside when the ball is kicked, so I think Toni might have been onside, but I haven't seen another replay of it since then. I guess this shows that he was offsides by the slimmest of margins. Anyhow, the last 20 minutes was pretty much all France, but like everyone else during the entire tournament they just couldn't put it past Buffon. 1-1 full time and onto extra time we went.

I can't say this any clearer: France dominated extra time. In fact, Italy did not produce 1 single shot during the 30 minutes of extra time, the last 9 of which they played with a man advantage. I'm not even talking shots on goal: they didn't even produce a single shot, period. Henry had to be subbed because his legs were cramping; at this point I was thinking "shit, Vieira's off, Henry's off - Zizou is going to have to do something special". And in damn if he didn't almost do it. A cross came in from the right and Zizou jumped and put a bullet header on goal that was not unlike his first goal against Brasil in the 1998 World Cup final. Buffon was caught a bit flat-footed and wrong-footed, but still managed to jump straight up and make an amazing save and push it just over the bar. That would have been the absolute Hollywood ending for ZZ in his last match, to score the World Cup winning goal in extra time and then ride off into the sunset, but Buffon spolied the script with his amazing save.

Then in the 110th minute, 70 yards from the ball, Materazzi was lying on the ground in pain. Replays showed that he and Zidane were talking back and forth and then Zidane turned around, squared up to Kramer, and have him the wickedest headbutt I've ever seen, right to Kramer's sternum. It was bizarre, it was shocking, it was surreal. Obviously Materazzi said something to him which made him snap. I can only assume that it was something racial about ZZ being Arab and/or Algerian, and there are rumors on the internets that it involved ZZ's mother in some way. Either way, no matter how horrible whatever was said was, there is no excuse for Zizou losing his mind like that. Materazzi has always been the hard man/enforcer on whatver team he has played on, kind of like the thug/enforcer in hockey but with more skill, but still - Zidane has absolutely no excuse, especially after serving a 2 match ban during World Cup 1998 for raking his studs down the leg of a Saudi Arabian player who made a crude comment to him about his Algerian heritage. You would think that between that incident, and all the shit talking that goes on in soccer, he should have let it go and beat him with his skill, ESPECIALLY in his last ever match. Anyhow, Zidane was given a straight red card and rightly sent off. It was eerie to watch him walk right past the World Cup trophy on his way off the field and to the locker room.

Zizou's career ends not lifting the cup but walking
past it to the dressing room after a moment of madness.

The whole world wants to know what Materazzi said to get such a reaction out of Zidane, but as of right now neither player is talking. I am guessing that it will either come out in the next 48 hours or it won't come out for like 40 years, until one or the other spills the beans as a very old man.

The strange thing is that because it happened about 70 yards from the ball, almost no one in the stadium saw it, and I don't think either coach did either. Domenech faux-applauded the decision, which tells me that he didn't see it. Furthermore, for the rest of the match the crowd booed every time Italy touched the ball, because they all thought that Materazzi was rolling around and got ZZ sent off, because they didn't see the headbutt. They must have all had an "oops" moment when they got home and saw the replay.

*This is pretty funny - you can play the role of Zizou and get sent off yourself. Enjoy.

So France played the last 9 minutes 10 v 11, yet still they had the better of it; Italy did exactly nothing with their man advantage. The extra time ended, so onto penalties we went.

This was the 2nd World Cup final to go to penalties. The first was 1994, which Italy lost to Brasil. In fact, Italy had never won a World Cup shootout, going 0-3. Normally I would have thought that France would win a shootout, but given that 3 of France's 5 automatic shooters gone (Zidane, Henry, Vieira), I told A7 that I thought Italy might very well do it. Italy went first, and every single penalty kick was pretty well taken; none were saved. The difference was that David Trezeguet for France hit his shot off the crossbar, it bounced straight down, hit the outside of the line, and bouced out. Very similar to Zidane PK in the first half except it never crossed the line. Every other kick was converted by each team. (Pirlo made, Wiltord made, Materazzi made, Trezeguet missed, De Rossi made, Abidal made, Del Piero made, Sagnol made, and finally Grosso made). Italy made all 5 rendering France's 5th kick moot, so Italy won 5-3. Here's my video of the crowd reaction to Grosso's World Cup winning kick from where we were.

Italia: Campeoni della mondo.

It's a total cliche but it truly is a game of inches. If Trezeguet's shot is literally 1 or 2 inches lower, then it goes in and penalties would have went on . If Zidane's penalty was 1 or 2 inches higher France never would have scored. Anyhow, full credit to Italy on the penalites. Like England, penalty shootouts have always been their nemesis and they stepped up and slotted all 5, two of which were even by defenders.

Italians celebrate in Berlin.

And speaking of defenders, what a day for Kramer. He conceded the penalty to France, scored the equalizer for Italy, got Zidane sent off, and buried his corner into the side panel. Then he donned an Italy flag Superman Cape style and pimped out the WC trophy with a new lid as well. Quite a day for Cosmo.

Cosmo accessorizes the Jules Rimet Trophy.

So full credit to Italy and congratulations as well. I thought overall France played better and probably deserved to win a little bit more, mainly because they outplayed Italy in the 2nd half and dominated the extra time, but at the end of the day they failed to put the ball in the net, and Italy's defense was once again outstanding. On the other hand, Italy clearly "won" the first half. Either way, although I feel like France outplayed Italy I don't feel a big sense of injustice that Italy won.

Tre signores send a message to Kanu & all the haters.

So I take my hat off to Italy. Those who are still hating on Italy point to the Australia penalty, which was certainly bogus, but it must be remembered that the game was tied at that point so even if it was not called, there is no guarantee that Australia would definitely have knocked Italy out - The azzurri may very well have won it in extra time or even penalties. And for all the people still moaning about how boring they were, I didn't think they were really that boring overall. They scored 12 goals from 10 different goalscorers, and the defenders uncharacteristically (or unstereotypishly, if that were a word) got forward a good deal. Three of those goalscorers were defenders, and 4 of their 12 goals (25%) were scored by defenders. I certainly didn't think they were as boring and defensive minded in this tournament as say Greece was in winning Euro 2004. I also tip my hat to them that they didn't do much diving, rolling around, and whining in the final, which is always what gets me irritated about them in the first place. Almost every time they were rolling around it was the result of a legitimate hard foul, so as someone who hated on them pretty hard earlier in the tournament, I have to give them credit where credit is due.

Bellisima adds her sentiments as well.

So there it is. Italy are now the only 4 time champions, and trail only Brasil's 5 World Cup titles overall. Unfortunately it is A7 whose jersey is now obsolete not me, but such is life. I can save $75, while he has to go out and get a new one.

Unbridled joy: A7 post match,
showing off his recently retro kit

After the match we went home for a minute and then walked down to North Beach to check out the scene. I wish I had brought my camera - it was absolutely INSANE. North Beach is the Italian section of SF, and I'm sure it is the largest concentrated Italian neighborhood out West. It's up there with Little Italy in NYC and the North End in Boston (I assume Chicago has a similar neighborhood as well). Anyhow, it was madness. People dancing in the streets, flag waving, cars driving up and down the streets honking horns like crazy with people hanging out of them waving flags, singing, chanting, etc. It was really cool to take in the whole scene. I was still wearing my France kit and was congratulating them left and right, and everyone was very cool. The whole thing was very joyous and positive, which struck me a really neat compared to how edgy and violent impromptu championship celebrations tend to be here in the US. Here's a taste
and another as well.

Oh, one more thing that I forgot. These two teams are in the same group for Euro 2008 qualifying, so they are guarantedd two more competitive matches over the next year and a half. SHould be interesting to say the least.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Sounds like good times. I ended up at a baseball game yesterday and Tivo-ed the match, but I never really thought to find out if anywhere here was having a watching party. Looks like a crazy good time.