From Bogotá to Berlin, from Sunday to Wednesday, people had been lip reading, guessing, presuming and supposing, trying to figure out what on earth did Italian devil defender Marco Materazzi say that was so bad, so insulting, so upsetting that Zinedine Zidane lost his head just by using it.
Now we know, without the exact quotes, that it had something to do with Zidane’s mother and sister, not very nice.Neither, I’m afraid, was the World Cup.
This was not the best World Cup, not even close. There were at least seven tournaments which were better, and I go back to only 1966.
It had no truly big name to light up the games, nothing like Pele in 1958, Maradona in 1986 or Paulo Rossi in 1982. Zidane was close to being like them but blew it.
The ones who were supposed to shine, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Beckham, Rooney, never got past the strength of a 60 watt bulb. Many others put much effort into Oscar-winning dives in and out of the penalty box, as if they had been stabbed.
It had few games that could be considered great. The Germany-Italy semi-final was the exception. Mexico and Argentina wasn’t bad.
No big teams swept to conquer all in their wake. Brazil and England never showed up. Argentina left too early. Germany, though, came up big, sparkling to an unexpectedly respectable third-place finish after grave pre-Cup predictions.
There would be no argument that the two best teams made it to the end. It greatly helped that Italy and France peaked when it counted most.
Epitomizing a tournament with a poor goals average, it was their goalkeeping and their defenses, as smash-proof as diamonds, that carried the finalists to the ultimate game.
The match-fixing imbroglio back home perhaps galvanized Italy. Actually, one got the unmistakable impression the Italians wanted to stay in Germany for as long as possible before returning to what could be a long line on the dole.
The officiating was not much better than the embarrassments of 2002. Referees in 2006 were busy giving too many unnecessary yellow and red cards, and at one famous time, flashing too many yellows to one player in one game.
We did see some fabulous goals. The best team effort must go to the unity goal of Argentina’s Esteban Cambiasso versus Serbia, which came following two dozen passes.
There was some electric, far away efforts, the most stunning of which was the chest trap, then before-it-hit-the-ground volley by Maxi Rodriguez, again from Argentina, this time against Mexico. Philipp Lahm’s first effort for Germany against Costa Rica would be a decent runner-up prize for long-range missile.
There was a minimum of hooliganism, no racist violence which had been feared and absolutely no terrorism. Those German fan zones with the huge screens erected everywhere provided millions of people without tickets to the games the same stadium-like atmosphere. The event also changed the perception and image of the hosts, from dour and overly serious to . could it be … country-friendly.
Germany 2006 certainly had its moments. Drama could not have scaled higher heights when Italy’s Fabio Grosso’s scored his late, late winner against Germany in the semi s.
The final penalty shootout was also harmful for the irregular heartbeat.
But the real heart stopper was Zidane’s extraordinary, inexcusable moment. Things like what Materazzi uttered are said on soccer fields every 15 seconds. Like all good Mediterraneans, the Italians are famous for provocation; and they don’t think it’s wrong. The reply is to get on with it; the best answer is to win.
Both Zidane and Materazzi erred, both mistakes equally grievous. Football, however, only punishes foul play, not a foul mouth. The rules should change.