Why the excitement and sorrow in France? It was the career ending game of France's Star Zinedine Zidane, the Michael Jordan of French Football who at the 114 minute point in the game was pulled out of the game on a red card penalty after head butting Italy's Marco Materazzi.
For those of us used to NFL football rather than what we call Soccer, or even more violent yet NHL hockey, the gasps and silence felt and heard around the world at Zidane's action and ejection might seem a little incomprehensible. But this was the equivalent of a Major League Pitcher beaning a batter in a late inning of the final game of the World Series, and more stringent standards applied. The penalty carried even more weight when the impact of it, combined with the missed shoot-out kick, resulted in France's loss of the most coveted sports trophy.
That being said, I think the World Soccer fans should cut Zidane a few breaks on several counts.
While Zidane made the most flagrant penalty, headbutting and knocking down another player, it was not exactly a life endangering nor bone crushing move. Had Zidane wanted to exact real punishment on Materazzi all he had to do was administer one swift kick with his spikes.
Next, given the replay of the game Materazzi was not exactly innocent and light himself his first transgression occurring only 6 minutes into the game which drew not only a penalty, but a face-off with Zidane.
Then, skipping to just the headbutting incident, a review of the tape repeatedly, clearly shows that just after Zidane's first shot towards a game winning second goal, which caused goalie Gianluigi Buffon pop the ball out quickly into the sights of France's Willy Sagnol (actually a member of a German club playing for France) coming in from the side. As Buffon's kick back toward the goal was headbutted out of danger, Materazzi was physically restraining Zidane from getting into range of the ball for a counter butt, by holding Zidane back with an arm across his chest, his left hand across Zidane's breast, preventing Zidane from interfering with Buffon's defense of the goal, and possibly robbing France of a World Cup winning Second Goal.
Not being up on the international rules of the FIFA World Cup, I don't know where this rates from really bad sportsmanship, to just as bad behavior as Zidane's, or even worse. But it sure smells like provocation to me, especially when you watch just how Materazzi restrains Zidane, how he releases him, how he seems to laugh and discount him as he walks away, and how Zidane's reaction, a headbutt for a headbutt undelivered on the field seems to be a rational response to Materazzi's unnoticed actions.
Did Materazzi squeeze while he grabbed Zidane? Did he also make comments that would rile up a Frenchman even more while doing so? Was it a provocation designed to try to elicit a violent action?
If so, he got away with it, and my sympathy is entirely with Zidane who should not feel that his image or career has been marred by what looks to me like a very dirty trick. And I am about as non-partisan as you get.
If you want to see the clip yourself, it is tricky. There are clips that go up but get taken down quickly due to copyright issues. This clip is from the FIFA website but does not show the detail of some of the others out there. You can see Zidane's headbutt of Materazzi in clear detail. The rest? No. But it does give you a sense of the excitement of the match.
If you want to see other clips with more detail, I suggest you try searching a number of video sources and search engines at different hours of the day, as people will try to persistently try to get these up there, just to do it.
Zidane had many great moments in this his last World Cup series, that is, if he, can avoid the Michael Jordan trap and truly retire, for not for a moment out there did he look like a player ready for golden pastures. However, one consolation for him is that he was awarded the World Cup 2006 Golden Ball Award by the World Press Sportswriters gathered for that final game. So perhaps I was not the only one who noticed a few moments of unnecessary holding.
congratulations to Zidane on a great career. Italy want through three World Cups before claiming the gold. So perhaps France's turn will come soon enough. Unless of course, the U.S.A. squeaks in. Soccer, that is, international football is the fastest growing sport here with more kids learning it every year.
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