Monday, July 10, 2006

More re: World Cup

Monkfriend Anon chimed in today to say France was the better team throughout the Tourney, that the manager Domenech honked by substituting Ribery and Henry (I wondered about the latter myself) and that Zidane was a dope who basically pooped upon both his legacy and his likely award of the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player (three of seven previous winners were on sides that did not win the Cup, so that wouldn't be an anomaly).

The Monk agrees with most of that, except the best team notion. Let's be clear, Anon knows his soccer better than Monk and watched more of it because Anon had the time to go to the pubs and chill during his lunch (two)hour whilst Monk was in trial.

That said, Anon has vastly understated what Italy accomplished: between Buffon, Canavarro and the rest of the Azzurri defense, the Italians performed an historic feat: no goals scored by an opponent during play. The only goals Italy let in during the whole tournament were an own goal that a defender knocked into his net, and the chip-shot penalty that Zidane hit during the Final. No actual shots or shots on goal (unlike hockey stats, soccer distinguishes between shots attempted that would not have gone in, and shots that would have scored if not for a save or block; penalties don't count as either) reached the Italian net.

Now consider who Italy played while demonstrating that lockdown defense: world #2 Czech Republic; world #5 (HA!) US; the best African side in the Tourney, Ghana; Australia (the offensive weak link of the bunch); Ukraine and its phenom Andriy Shevchenko; host Germany, the most effective attacking squad in the Cup; and the French. Other than its win over a befuddled (and shockingly poor) Brazil, France really had an easier road to the Final.

Anon also claimed that France should've knocked home three goals before Zidane head-butted his way off the pitch. That may sound good, but reality is that mis-hits are part and parcel of even the best players' games (Anon unquestionably saw the English brick a wide-open shot from deep within the penalty area about 20 minutes into their 0-0 draw and shootout loss to Portugal), and Buffon stifled two of the best opportunities. So some more credit where it's due -- that Italian defense is the real story of the Cup and the Azzurri deserve what they received.

CORRECTION: Zidane's idiocy played no part in the Golden Ball (Ballon D'or) voting -- it ended at half-time of the Final. No doubt, that voting cutoff saved him: FIFA announced this morning that he won the trophy as the best player in the Tournament.

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