Monday, July 10, 2006

italy wins the world cup

Azzurri campioni del mondo, Italy is the world champion, as by now soccer fans and just about everyone else knows. For those who have watched the team through years of frustration--defined in Italian circles as anything less than the championship--it was a sweet moment indeed. Beating Germany and France in successive contests made it all the sweeter.

Coming in an otherwise uninspiring game, the Italian victory was due primarily to two factors. The first was Gialuigi Buffon, who solidified his hold as best goalkeeper in the world by letting exactly zero non-penalty goals in during the entire World Cup. Had Buffon been even a very good, as opposed to incredible, goaltender the Italians would never have made it past the semi-finals.

The second was the depth of the Italian squad, which allowed it to substitute with no seeming effect on the team's quality. France was clearly not the same team without Zidane, Henry, etc.; Italy arguably became better.

The latter brings up the question of Zidane and the head-butt of Marco Materazzi which led to Zidane's expulsion and at least temporary disgrace as he completedhis distinguished career. There are various theories as to what exactly Materazzi said (in French? Italian? Arabic?) to set Zidane off, but perhaps also a less mysterious explanation. Zidane has played his heart out for a decade representing a country whose leaders have announced, essentially, that he and his group are not wanted and not appreciated. The teammates he most liked and respected were already out of the game, and his career had 10 minutes left. Could it be that the frustrations of a decade simply blew over in that one moment, in a game he already felt that he was powerless to decide one way or another? We may never know.

Whatever the outcome of the World Cup, one had to be pleased for the Germans, who seem to have finally gotten it right in balancing patriotism with open-mindedness and a sense of fun. In particular it was satisfying to see the black, red, and gold flag, once ridiculed as the symbol of a weak and reduced Germany, treated as an object of pride. Whether Germany has changed its essence or merely its presentation--whether there is even such a thing as a national essence--is a question for historians to decide. Given the alternatives, it was a happy moment indeed.


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