It wasn't perfect
Cup had share of weak links
Tue, July 11, 2006
BERLIN -- It did little to disrupt Italy's own celebration -- what could stop that, after all -- but the hostile reaction inside Olympic Stadium Sunday clearly was misguided.
The derisive whistling that serenaded the Azzurri's triumph in the World Cup final short-changed the champions while spotlighting yet another FIFA failure.
From referees, to a dearth of scoring, to the announcement yesterday that controversial/tragic figure Zinedine Zidane was named winner of the Golden Ball, this World Cup had its share of weak links.
Let's start with the misguided chiding of the Italians Sunday.
Had just one replay of Zidane's brutal headbutt of Italy's Marco Materazzi been shown on the three giant screens, even the most jaded of French supporters would have seen the truth.
Left to their own devices, fans leapt to a conclusion based on the evidence before them. They saw Marco Materazzi rolling on the ground in agony. Soon after, they saw a slumped Zidane walking off the field in disgrace. It wasn't the first time the FIFA replay ban turned messy.
Unfortunately, fans will be left with a number of head-scratching memories from what was a well-organized Cup and one in which Italy was a worthy, if not decisive, champion.
The honour for Zidane was another of those mind-boggling moments, proving that perhaps crime does pay. But you would think the way he went out -- severely damaging his team's chances and his own reputation -- would be enough to disqualify him from consideration.
Beyond that, Zidane was not always sharp in the tournament. Sure, he scored in the past two games -- both on penalty kicks -- and he was brilliant in a quarter-final win over Brazil. But prior to that, he looked old and ordinary.
Azzurri supporters will point to two of their own who would have been worthy winners and with ample evidence -- goaltender Gianluigi Buffon, who had five shutouts, and defender Fabio Cannavaro, an immovable force in front of him.
While it will be remembered as an organizational success, there were times the World Cup 2006 tournament threatened to overheat both on and off the field.
For most of the four weeks it took to determine a champion from the 32 teams, Germany, the country, cooked in unseasonably hot and humid temperatures.
Just at hot, however, were the emotions on the field where a notorious record for yellow cards -- an average of more than five per game -- was set.
There was a lot of red, too. From Zidane, to England's Wayne Rooney, they were big stories at the biggest times.
Increasingly, officials and players were under increasing scrutiny for their actions. Some refs seemed far too quick to reach for a card, though in fairness it has become next to impossible to determine when a player tumbles due to a real hit or phantom contact.
The divers -- and you know who they are -- were a disgrace and maybe the biggest problem facing the game today.
Another style critique was the overall lack of offence, a trend FIFA had predicted would change at this World Cup.
While some teams opened things up, most notably the host Germans, who led with 14 goals, the 147 overall was down dramatically from 2002.
The Germans were admirable hosts, both as players and fans.
It started on a glorious opening night in Munich when Germany built up hopes with an easy 4-2 win over Costa Rica.
From there, the Germans continued to make a run that few in the host country expected to see, ending with a win in the third-place game Saturday night.
The stadiums were clean and worry-free, while a strong police presence at train stations and other potential trouble spots made sure worries of hooliganism were kept in check.
Troubles on the field weren't so easy to solve, however, and now the world must wait four years to see if they can be fixed.
Considering that process has been going on for decades, don't hold your breath.