I found this remarkably good article on FIFA WC 2006 a couple of days back in the Editorial Column of the Indian Express. It's by Damodaran, SEBI chairman. I assure you, it's a worth read.
Long years ago I had a coaster which stated an eternal truth. It simply said ‘‘Use your head—it is the little things that count’’. Somewhere along the way the coaster disappeared. Did it reach Zidane without an explanatory note?
Come to think of it, the head dominated action on Sad Sunday—sad because in one moment, not of madness but of deliberate design, a deity chose to fall off the high pedestal on which millions had placed him. In the first minute, Henry’s head took a knock. In the twelfth Materazzi’s header showed that Barthez was literally and figuratively out of place at this level. Later came Zidane’s legitimate header with Buffon showing that he was in every sense the tallest among present day goalkeepers. And then the head butt that would have been the envy of a battering ram and floored Materazzi and the rest of us. And throughout all of this Fabio (abbreviated from fabulous?) Cannavero and his men kept their feet on the ground, kept cool heads showed visible hunger and proved worthy winners.
Let us leave emotions aside and consider hard facts. Down very early by a penalty award that was possibly justified but fortuitous and with Zidane’s penalty kick falling for the Italians, on the wrong side of the line after hitting the underside of the crossbar, many sides would have given in to despair. Not this Italian side. They were back on level terms in 10 minutes, then hit the crossbar once, had the ball once again in the net without getting a goal and then after 120 minutes of gut wrenching stuff converted all 5 penalties with nothing iffy about any one of them. In my book, worthy winners on the day.
Let us rewind to the beginning. Brazil came with the conviction, which many reinforced, that the World Cup would be theirs four weeks and sixty four matches later. They, like us, should have heeded the warning of the mutual fund industry that past performance is no guarantee of future returns. The hunger that winners need to have was clearly not in evidence. Argentina was a well conducted orchestra—remember the 24 pass goal—till Pekerman decided that Riquelme the conductor could be replaced. Then symphony went; Cacophony came. Spain was consistent, ever the underperformer. Portugal had their moments and if only Cristiano Ronaldo (easily the better Ronaldo in this tournament) had believed more often that this was a teamgame, Figo could have had a fonder farewell. The African teams showed great skill till the penalty box. Their time will come perhaps in South Africa 2010. The Asian teams clearly didn’t belong here. Clearly the economic gains since 2002 have been offset by the loss in skillsets on the football field.
Shed a tear for the Germans. If they had won, I for one wouldn’t have complained. In a tournament that coaches dominated, Klinsman showed that he could hold his own against the Scolaris and the Lippis, the Pekermans and the Hiddinks, not to mention the eminently forgettable Eriksson.
England deserve a separate paragraph. Their game plan was a perfect recipe for disaster. Gerrard and Lampard, both kings of the midfield, found one kingdom difficult to share. Rooney, all alone, was lost upfront. Crouch clearly was in the wrong league. Theo Walcott was brought as a surprise package and the package remained unopened, contents unknown. Lennon was good when given a chance, but was starved of time. And Beckham (I tried hard to remain his fan) stayed immobile for long so close to the touchline that one thought he had bought the best ringside seat. Erase Eriksson from memory. Give Alan Shearer his coaching badge soon. Only then will the lions roar again.
There were several positives that merit approval. The first was clearly organisation. ‘‘Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer showed first as player then as coach and now as Chief Organiser that when it comes to organisation he is top of the class. Everything went like clockwork and the hosts won several friends. For countries seeking to organise international events, this World Cup was an object lesson.
Next in my book comes the refereeing, and I know this is nowhere near a unanimous view among the cognoscenti. Let me state my case. In 64 matches you can have the odd offdays, one match reduced to a ‘‘card party’’ and a referee giving 3 yellow cards to a player in one match. Australia ‘‘robbed’’ at the end of a well contested match with a penalty that simply was not on, was another huge error. But that said, let us see it from the referee’s point of view. Told that jersey pulling, tackling from the rear, diving et al should be firmly dealt with, referees blew the whistle a little too often in the earlier games. Then came the public admonition from the highest in the game. Don’t be spoilsports. Keep the players in the field and the cards in your pockets, or words nearly to that effect. The players got emboldened, the referees got more challenged and to my mind the latter prevailed. They showed firmness without being disruptive and when push came not to shove but to headbutt, they showed who was in charge. Theirs was a thankless job; no harm is done by thanking them for a job well done.
Penalty kicks merit some comment, not the awarding alone but the taking thereof. Strict refereeing ensures that goalkeepers remain on the line and never in front reducing the angles. That leaves goalkeepers with a very small chance. Guess the direction and the height reasonably correctly and make the first move sideways and nearly always horizontally. Or pray that the ball goes out and does not trouble you. The better penalty takers know that too. Their runups are not long and they often go for the roof knowing that a goalkeeper is almost always diving to one side. That sets the Zidanes and Cristiano Ronaldos apart. A lot of practice and a lot of self belief is involved. Even Eriksson spoke of practicing penalty kicks!
In case some of us thought that footballers were unidimensional, this World Cup taught us to think again. We saw some great diving and some great playacting. And while Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Henry gave it their theatrical best, the Oscar was clearly Ballack’s for clutching his face when the contact was at least two feet away.
We also saw some of the greats of this generation bidding goodbye on the big stage. Zidane, Figo, Oliver Kahn, Roberto Carlos, Paul Nedved, the list is long. They gave us great joy while they were around and football will be the poorer for their absence.
Who will be the big names in 2010? Too early for definitive pronouncements but no harm starting the deliberations. A talented Messi, a more mature Rooney, a brilliant Ribery and a proven Podosky should make their mark. Robinho should shine in the absence of the more famous Rs of Brazil. And as teams go, let me stick my neck out four years too early. Watch out for Spain and England.
Finally Zizou adieu. And while we say goodbye, one word of advice. Don’t tell us, for your sake and for our sake, what provoked you to do what you did. Let us continue to guess, as your opponents guessed, often wrongly, the direction of your passes. For if you tell, as your agent says you would, lesser mortals will sit in judgement on your action. Psychologists will deconstruct you, lawyers will maintain that your deliberate intent negates the gravest of provocations. Leave us with the luxury of remembering those great moments when you raised football to the level of poetry and we reciprocated by raising you to Godhead.