Thursday, June 29, 2006

World Cup Diary: Breakdown and Resurrection

Just when you thought this World Cup was on the verge of disaster both as spectacle and sport — low scoring, badly refereed, uninspiring, unsurprising, lacking drama and excitement — here come France and Brazil, the last two teams to win the championship, to save the day. Brazil’s 3-0 win over Ghana on Tuesday wasn’t spectacular. The famed Brazilian style is still stuck somewhere between Tierra del Fuego and Gibraltar, and Ghana’s Black Stars managed to shine despite the losing score almost throughout the match, as every African team shone this year. But we needed this Brazil-France rematch, this lunge at revenge by the Brazilians, who were smashed up on the shoals of a 3-0 humiliation by this very French team eight years ago (“we’ll always have Paris”), when Zidane had his two goals in the final to go with his previous two and Emmanuel Petit had his 90 th minute sweetener in front of 75,000 people at the Stade de France. (Lost in the crowd of those French goals that year were three by Thierry Henry, then a mere scallion of a striker, and a couple by Lilian Thuram, who’s still around.)

The French are old. They’re a bit full of themselves, these continental Americans (how could they be French if they weren’t). This year they looked the opposite of Spain. They looked slow, morbid, slightly idiotic with their inability to score, held over from their blanketing in 2002. Spain looked invulnerable, a bull out of the gate, a goal-scoring machine with the efficiency of German engineering, the youthful exuberance of Brazilian footwork, and of course that Iberian passion that’s no stranger to football, but that never quite made its mark in World Cup, play. Read the rest...