I hope you were all watching the World Cup final yesterday. And I especially hope you were watching toward the end of overtime when the French capitaine, Zinedine Zidane, brutally head-butted an Italian player, earning himself an obvious red card. Lucky for him, Les Bleueuueueus held on for penalty kicks, but they lost anyway because another player missed his shot (Zidane is a notoriously-skilled penalty shot specialist).
The head-butt is notable for about a million reasons, among them:
Zidane, 34, has previously said that after this World Cup he would be retiring from soccer. Even if that’s not true, this is almost certainly his final World Cup performance. He had scored France’s only goal of the game (on a PENALTY KICK) early in this match and fought through an injury to stay in the game so, win or lose, all he had to do was stay standing for another eight or ten minutes of play and he would been heralded and praised–literally around the world–for his incredible career. But, for a reason nobody’s quite clear on, he made his final act as an international player a brutal cheap shot that may well have cost his country a World Cup championship.
As I said right up there, nobody really knows why he did it. The player he struck hadn’t physically obstructed or even touched him may have tweaked a nipple or something, but nothing too serious. They had been exchanging words, but what on earth could the other guy have said to make Zidane go so completely out of his skull? There are some theories, most notably (and disasterously for this World Cup) suggestions that Zidane was reacting to some racist slurs, but truthfully there is absolutely no rational excuse for Zidane’s behavior. It boggles the mind.
Incidentally, the guy he head-butted, Materazzi, is a pretty dirty player (warning: some swears in the soundtrack of that video). Not that it excuses anything, but it does give Zidane’s many zealous apologists a sliver of rationalization to work with.
Zidane, despite his general reputation as a great guy and a special player, has a bit of a history of these kinds of acts. He’s gotten tossed in the past for stomping on another player (in another World Cup match!), and for, er, head-butting another player. So although this is ridiculous, it’s not quite unprecedented.
All that being said, it was a beautiful, perfect strike. I have no doubt that Jean Claude Van Damme, surely watching the match, wept at the precision and sheer visceral barbarity of the head-butt. Watch it again: Look at Zidane cock his entire body like a cobra about to strike and–boom goes the dynamite–slam his forehead right into the Italian player’s sternum. If you’re going to destroy your reputation in an instant, that’s not a bad way to go about it.
Anyway, congratulations to Italy–you managed to flop and flail your way to the elimination rounds, at which point you decided it was time to actually play some soccer. And then you played better than each of your opponents and got the championship you awesomely lost in 1994.
Despite lots of referee problems and the sad but unsurprising failure of the US team, it was a really good World Cup–amazing goals, lots of competitive games, and a memorable championship match. Let’s hope the US can manage a better showing next time.
Deadspin helpfully points out the best part of a generally excellent story: As the “lorries” escorted him from the “pitch,” the once and future television star exclaimed, “Do you know who I am? I’m The Hoff.”
Does it get any better than that?
Dunkin’ mints ’86 Mets coins but Sox fans get chump change
The 1986 World Series is a bad memory for die-hard Red Sox fans. But Massachusetts-based Dunkin’ Donuts is literally minting money off of it in New York.
The company, which has its headquarters in Canton, started selling commemorative coins celebrating the 20th anniversary of the New York Mets World Series win over the Sox at Dunkin’ Donuts stores in New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut two weeks ago.
The 1986 World Championship, while a sweet success for the Mets, was a bitter experience for Sox fans, who watched the series title start to roll away as the ball went between Bill Buckner’s legs.
The Mets promotion, which is still running, had some members of Red Sox Nation wondering yesterday if Dunkin’ Donuts would create a David Ortiz dime or even a Manny Ramirez nickel.
“When are they going to make 2004 ones,” asked Billy Neader, 51, of Florida, a Sox fan.
The color has been brightened slightly and the channels — the black grooves that segment a basketball — have been minimized. The ball is also crafted from a composite of different materials, not the traditional leather casing that the NBA has used for years, and is softer and provides a better grip. The new ball also has a sleeker Spalding logo and two extra NBA logos stamped on it.
Although the most reported news, as far as I can tell, is the change from leather to a composite, I think the more significant change is the replacement of the old eight-panel design–the new balls are formed from just two panels that interlock:
Click on the image for a closer look.
It seems to me like the change in the seams on the ball, were I an elite player, might actually make a big difference. I don’t know whether it would improve or reduce accuracy, but it sure does seem like a noticeable change. I wonder what the players will have to say about it.
The story I linked to is as much about marketing as it is about the ball itself–if you want the pure sports story, try this ESPN link.
I didn’t watch the Italy-Australia match, but what I’ve read about it has led me to understand it this way: Australia outplayed Italy for the entire game, but an Italian player (surprise!) took a dive in the last minute of extra time to draw a penalty kick on what was, charitably speaking, an extremely controversial call by the referree. Italy, of course, converted the penalty kick for the game-winner and basically stole the game from the Australians.
I could take this post in a different direction by asking a question like “why can’t Italy try to win a game with athletic superiority rather than flopping around like asphyxiating carp?” But the more pressing question is: What’s up with the referees this year? Maybe I’m being naive, but I don’t remember the officiating being such a point of contention in prior Copas Mundiales. And I recognize that “the officials screwed us!” is the rallying cry of poor losers in every dark corner of the sporting universe. But seriously, how many matches in this World Cup have been sullied by questionable officiating? U.S./Italy; U.S./Ghana; Portugal/Netherlands; and surely at least a few I’m forgetting about. And I’m not talking about minor gaffes–for the most part the problem has been that the refs have been calling way too many fouls (especially in the penalty box) and issuing way too many cards for borderline fouls. Even the head of FIFA has admitted that an official deserved a yellow card for his performance this weekend.
There have been more cards assessed in this World Cup than in any other, and we just started the first knockout round. This is ridiculous!
I don’t really have a snappy conclusion. I just think that it’s appalling to see so many games end in so unsatisfactory a manner, especially since many of the cards that the refs are passing out have recriminations beyond the game in which they’re issued–players who get a red card or a second yellow are held out of the next game, if their team is lucky enough to get there. It dilutes the quality of the games to have so many starters on the bench because of poor officiating.
Seriously, this is crazy. We’re not talking about the Raiders and the Chargers here, we’re talking about an even match pairing two extremely beatable teams. Sure, the Bears barely beat the Seahawks, but come on. This is the Colts. Grossman, despite his mediocrity, will be able to pick apart the Colts secondary with quick slants and play-action deep passes, since Indy will be loading up the box with linebackers to stop the Bears’ running game. Peyton will throw three picks and Addai will run for 46 yards. And I’ll be surprised if Devin Hester doesn’t have at least one kick return over 50 yards.
Bears 31, Colts 24