Tuesday, July 11, 2006

la coupe du monde - the last post

Zizou's televised mea not entirely culpa

Well, Italy has won, after scraping through against Oz. A hard graft victory, and a disappointment for a few reasons. First, penalties. I've never liked them. After the last (and first) penalties victory in the final, in 94, I never thought of Brazil as world cup winners - basically, I always thought of that final as a match between Brazil and Italy which one of the teams won on penalties. I suppose I'll think of the 2006 final as the one France lost via this silly penalties procedure.

I recognise, reluctantly, that the pre-final matches need to be decided within a certain time frame - in fact, with the stalemating tactics these days, the tournaments themselves might last four years if all results had to be decided in open play. But couldn't the final at least be saved as a spectacle by insisting on just this way of deciding things? Of course it would mean replays, and maybe second replays, and all the organisational nightmares this entails, but the greatest tournament of the greatest ball-game ever devised deserves such sacrifices. Currently, it's being sold short.

Second, Zidane. Deservedly named the player of the tournament, his demise in extra time is obviously going to be the talking point of this world cup for a long time to come. Usually I'm very down on this sort of thing and generally feel that players get away with far too much foul play, and play-acting, especially in a showcase tournament like this, with so many youngsters and unfootbally people watching, but I confess to rather more mixed feelings about this one, flagrantly illegal though it was. There was no option but to show the red card of course, and I shudder to think of the inspiration Zidane's act will offer to ten-year-old players world-wide, but obviously there was provocation, and if the audio coverage of the game came anywhere close to matching the video coverage, we may well be thinking of it differently.

I would also add that the 'brutality' of Zidane's action is somewhat exaggerated (though of course emulating it would be detrimental to the growth and development of our youth, both perps and victims). These are all strong, fit, healthy young gladiators - though this image might be undermined by their tendency to writhe around in agony for ten minutes after a tap (or attempted tap) on the ankle. Materazzi's pain, if there was any, would've gotten instant relief from the penalty shoot-out moments later (and note that Matterazi was one of the successful penalty-takers, so it's clear he wasn't much hurt by the incident).

Undoubtedly my mixed feelings have much to do with Zidane's brilliance as a player. His tactical midfield control is reminiscent of Argentina's Riquelme, but his changes of pace, his ability to draw players, and of course his explosive goal-scoring potential put him on another plane altogether - and all done with a consumate economy that isn't exactly French but is certainly more French than Brazilian. And yet you couldn't call him workmanlike in the manner of many British or German midfielders. There's an indefinable - hey, let's call it je ne sais quoi - about his style. Finesse, another French word, might best sum it up.

So I want to say something about provocation and mitigating circs, but before that I must speak about technology. There was some post-game controversy about the red card being issued as a result of viewing the incident on a television monitor, in spite of FIFA's insistence that video evidence is not to be used to help with on-field decision-making. The controversy was somewhat damped down by the claim, that, no, the assistant ref saw the whole thing with his own two visual perception devices, and that the technology that transformed this perceptual process into the production of a red card by the principal ref was entirely human.

Well, not for nout am I the proud Secretary of the Urbane Society for Sceptical Romantics let me tell you. We'll never know if the assistant ref's telling porkies, but the fact is, due to public demand, spectators, both at home and in the stadium, get a many-angled view of every incident that turns up, with slo-mo, zooming etc. The officials, however, are instructed to pay no mind to this sophisticated technology, essentially designed to allow viewers to judge for themselves whether the penalty was warranted, the offside rule fairly invoked, etc. It's an impossible situation, and it's only a matter of time before they're caught out correcting their booboos courtesy of a surreptitious scan of the verboten screen. It's the old story of the laws lagging behind the technology, and considering how close the teams are these days, an undeserved penalty is often enough to knock a team out and destroy its morale for four or more years. So let's be sensible - it surely can't do more damage to the game than penalty shoot-outs.

And anyway, nobody's going to convince me that the huge outcry from the crowd and the remonstrations of Buffon after the coup de tete was displayed on-screen didn't influence the assistant ref's 'seeing' the incident suddenly, a couple of minutes after it occurred. I'm sure his adaptive unconscious played its part too - he's probably now permanently convinced that he did see the incident in real time, honour intact.

On the act and the provocation - more and more of the real story is emerging from the gossip-rumour-speculation-jokery, but we'll probably never know for certain all that was said - this exchange probably being only the last of many, the last straw (and note Materazzi's nipple tweak, which prompted the exchange). Zidane himself is claiming that Materazzi's remarks weren't racist, but directed at female members of his family. Materazzi claims mothers are sacrosanct and he doesn't know what a terrorist is, so he couldn't have described Zidane's mum as one, in spite of the evidence of lip-readers. Various videos are being posted showing what an on-field thug Materazzi has been over the years, while on the other side they're consulting case law to see if Zidane can be charged with assault.

Verdict, Zidane guilty of bringing the game into disrepute, but in view of the provocation involved, and bearing in mind that no injury was sustained, a suspended sentence to be incurred. As for Materazzi, guilty of undue oafishness and tattooedness, and gross ignorance of his own terrorist activities.


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