July 11, 2006


Allegations fly over what Italian said (Quentin Casey, National Post, July 11th, 2006)

All may be fair in love and war, but what about at one of the world's biggest sporting events?

Italy's victory in the World Cup on Sunday was partly overshadowed by French midfielder Zinedine Zidane's astonishing head -butt to the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi. Yesterday the French playmaker's agent said the assault, which caused his ouster, was provoked by a "very serious" comment.

According to one report, Mr. Materazzi called Mr. Zidane's sister a prostitute, while another claimed Mr. Materazzi called him a "terrorist" or suggested he did not have the right to play for France -- insults based on Mr. Zidane's Algerian heritage.

Tough guys, these soccer players. As the international sporting world continues to debate whether the insult was hurtful enough to merit one of history’s most outrageous and dangerous assaults in a championship game, those of us who watched much of the 2006 FIFA snoozefest are finally beginning to understand that the game is not about sport or winning, but about theatre. As such, it truly is the perfect European game. There is no point getting excited about goals–there are almost none–but the watchful, discriminating viewer will come to appreciate the thespian talents of the truly world class player. You, too, could represent your country in games watched by billions if you just mastered the following arts:

A) On those rare and surprising occasions when you get a shot on net that either goes fifteen feet wide or directly into the hands of the goalkeeper, place your face in your hands, then look skywards and shake your head at the cruelty of the fates as if your lottery ticket just missed by one number;

B) If hurt, writhe in agony on the field, face in the grass to keep everyone guessing. Await trainer. Keep writhing. Await stretcher. Manfully rise very slowly with assistance and hobble off the field grimacing to the cheers of the crowd. Have a drink of water. Sprint back on ten seconds later, good as new.

C) When taken off the field for a sub, walk as slowly as possible to the side of the field, eyes downward. Make it last. Look unassuming, reflective and heroic as if you were thinking of your dead comrades just before being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Salute the crowd at the very last second, double high-five the s.o.b. who is replacing you and accept the effusive congratulations of the rest of the team as modestly as you can.

D) If your teammate really is hurt by a dirty play, ignore him and chase the referee around the field complaining about something. Act outraged and throw arms up in exasperation. Avoid looking at any of the opposing team and especially the perp himself. You might get hurt.

E) If awarded a penalty or corner kick, start yelling at all your teammates as to where they should be. As they will be doing the same, the whole team will look incredibly strategic. Then kick the ball towards the goal and hope for the best as everyone surges towards it together.

F) Never accept an offside call with good grace. Remonstrate with the linesman in pantomime. Repeat “A” above.

G) If by some miracle you score a goal, run around in circles while lifting your sweaty shirt to treat everyone to flashes of your abs and pecs. (Don’t ask, we don’t know).

Well, what are you waiting for? 2010 is just around the corner. Start practicing.

Posted by Peter Burnet at July 11, 2006 5:57 AM

A truly masterful analysis of the finer points of "the beautiful game".

And yes, Zidane is very lucky he didn't kill that, um, most articulate Italian.

I suspect that in the US of A, or at least in the great state of New Hampshire, the latest put-down will be "Hey, yo mama wayuhs soccah boots!"

Posted by: Barry Meislin at July 11, 2006 6:40 AM

I don't mind it being theater, but why does it have to be avant garde theatre.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 11, 2006 7:09 AM

It was not a nice end for Zidane's great career. However, it is not the first time he has assaulted his opponents in the field.

Overall it was a good tournament, although Brazil was a big disappointment. In retrospect, it's interesting to recall some outrageous canards about the World Cup that were distributed in the news media and dutifully reported as factual on this blog, too.

Firstly, the accounts that the tournament was going to be used as a platform for racist propaganda, which decidedly did not happen.

Secondly, and even more outrageously, some feminist organisations started a rumor that tens or even hundreds of thousands of women were going to be transported to Germany for prostitution during the tournament. As it turned out, the numbers were pulled from thin air, and in reality prostition may even have decreased in Germany during the World Cup.

Even the English hooligans were kept perfectly in control by the German police.

Posted by: Mrk at July 11, 2006 7:49 AM


Now that you mention it, I guess keeping racism, prostitution and English hooliganism under wraps does count as a major accomplishment. Gotta love those German police. Funny, though, that no other sport or continent even worries about such things.

Posted by: Peter B at July 11, 2006 8:07 AM

Who won?

Posted by: Casey Abell at July 11, 2006 8:41 AM

Paul Zimmerman has a short piece defending Zidane on cnn/si.com.

Zidane should have just pulled the Italian's shorts down.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 11, 2006 9:30 AM


Your reading comprehension needs some work. Keeping those things in control was not a big achievement as they were canards to begin with, except perhaps the English hooliganism.

Other sports events are so small in comparison with the World Cup that comparisons are rather pointless.

No other continent than Europe has racism, prostitution and English hooliganism? That's a funny assertion considering that America practically invented racism, Australia was largely colonized with English hooligans, and there's no shortage of whores anywhere.

Posted by: Mrk at July 11, 2006 9:56 AM


America invented racism? Is that where the African slave traders and the Spanish conquistadors picked it up from?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 11, 2006 10:00 AM

His first instinct was to not hit him with his fists, but his head.

re: E — As for set plays like the corner kicks and those with "the wall", i kept waiting to see some sort of plan or strategy or set play or trick play and all I saw was one guy wildly kicking into a chaotic mass only to see the ball ejected far down-field. Or wen a player makes a break down the sidelines, then runs out of room and kicks the ball across the field and goal in the hopes that someone from his team might be in a position to be able to do something with it, but again, usually it ened up at midfield. For a team sport, there seems to be little to no apparent cooperation or attempts to coordinate attacks, but just the same plays you'd seen in a game where many of the players refer to the coaches as "Dad".

But give the Italians some credit. Weren't they the first team in weeks to actually score a goal in regulation time from the field and without the score tied 0-0?

And don't forget the Japanese caught it from Adm. Perry.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at July 11, 2006 10:13 AM

I'll admit I'm still trying to figure out if this article by Bernard Henry-Levy in Tuesday's Opinion Journal on Zidane's gaffe is supposed to be taken completly at face value when he writes:

Here is a man of providence, a savior, who was sought out, like Achilles in his tent of grudge and rage, because he was believed to be the only one who could avert his countrymen's fated decline. Better yet, he's a super-Achilles who--unlike Homer's--did not wait for an Agamemnon (in the guise of coach Raymond Domenech) to come begging him to re-enlist; rather, he decided himself, spontaneously, after having "heard" a voice calling him, to come back from his Spanish exile and--putting his luminous armor back on, and flanked by his faithful Myrmidons (Makelele, Vieira, Thuram)--reverse the new Achaeans' ill fortune and allow them to successfully pull together.

Not even Boston Globe columnists talking about the Red Sox ever get this effusive.

Posted by: John at July 11, 2006 10:25 AM

Levy plays at being more French than the French. This made him a great celebrity in France. It doesn't seem to go over as well elsewhere, however. It seems there's only one country in the world that can't get enough Frenchness.

Posted by: pj at July 11, 2006 10:48 AM

There's not much point in arguing about it, not when minds are so firmly set in ignorant prejudices.

The Cup final was a brilliantly played match between two very different sides. All the talk about the restarts being blind "hit-and-hope" plays or about the game resembling the play of small children mere confirms the lack of understanding of the commentators.

The role of the referee in Football continues to be misunderstood. It is necessary for the game to remain one of skills, techniques and tactics, and not to become a vulgar brawl that a high degree of control be established and maintained by the officials. This has produced the card system, and, naturally, the players attempt to take such advantage as they may find in the laws of the game.

We still don't know what Zindane heard to provoke a really dangerous, criminal, potentially deadly assault. Nevertheless, the referee's perfect, yes, theatrically perfect, gesture in sending off the best player in the most important match of the young century shall remain one of our lasting sports images. Impassive but stern face, red card at head level, but no higher, left hand pointing, straight, at a perfect angle. "Cochon! Not on my pitch! Go!"

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 11, 2006 11:08 AM

In other words, a Shakerspere play may have more action, sportsmanship and costumes, but the futbol game is the true thespian drama.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at July 11, 2006 11:29 AM

As always, these games must be watched in Spanish. As the referee pulled out his redcard, the announcer's voice rose to a fever pitch: "Adios Zinedine! Adios Zidane! Adios a futbol!" It was classic.

Posted by: b at July 11, 2006 11:49 AM

Potentially deadly assault? Come on, Lou. He head-butted a guy in the chest, and the other guy play-acted like he'd been shot. You want me to watch that sort of thing, there'd better be some scarlet capes and a folding chair involved.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 11, 2006 12:14 PM

Well said Lou.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 11, 2006 12:41 PM

It would have been more dramatic if Materazzi had started coughing up blood.

Posted by: ratbert at July 11, 2006 12:47 PM

Come on, joe. Other than going Cantona on him, there's probably nothing Zidane could have done that would have been more dangerous than a headbutt to the chest with the full force of his body behind it.

Posted by: b at July 11, 2006 1:26 PM

No, not the dreaded full-body-force-chest-head-butt! From a guy who weighs maybe 160. Now if someone had tossed him a folding chair...

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 11, 2006 2:11 PM

I cut the grass in my back yard Sunday. Yet, my Sunday was more exciting than the World Cup final. Go figure.

Three year olds usually use their heads like the french player did. Men tend to use fists. Well, to each their own.

Morko, Jim and Lou: You can dress a pig in as much lipstick as you want, yet it remains a pig.

Posted by: Bob at July 11, 2006 3:00 PM

Not only that, but futbol is one sport in which the pig has a chance to compete on an equal basis with humans, since opposable thumbs are not required to kick or head a ball.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at July 11, 2006 3:57 PM