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Sports Column: Lay off Zidane

Posted on July 10, 2006 by
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In the crazy, testosterone — driven world of sports — shit happens. And just as often as shit happens, boneheaded broadcasters will spend eternity demonizing and chastising incidents which, for the players involved, were in the heat of the moment? and for the broadcasters, in the heat of their cushy seats in the press box.

Case and point: Sunday?s World Cup finale.

Why the random leap into the deep end of World Cup madness? I can?t stand by as Zinedine Zidane?s good name is sullied from one headbutt that was, although ill-advised, in the heat of the moment.

This happens all the time. Many great players, including Michael Jordan, have lost their cool in crucial games due to trash-talking defenders. If you talk trash (yes, I?m looking at you, Gary Payton), you have to understand there is a chance that you?re going to get a fresh fist across the noggin — or in the case of soccer players, a headbutt in your chest.

The difference between the sports? If a guy gets cheeky with you in basketball, hockey or American football, you fight back when that first punch is thrown — and the referees get involved to defuse the situation. In soccer, however, the slightest gust of air from an opposing team member?s flailing limb sends these poor gentlemen flying to the ground like sacks of grass-loving potatoes. Not to say Zidane?s headbutt wasn?t vicious, but that poor Italian defender (Materazzi) looked as if he?d just been run over by the Juggernaut.

It?s also important to establish this isn?t speculation. It?s clear upon reviewing the incident that there was indeed a heated conversation between the two players, and if you look closely enough, it appears as if Materazzi actually gives Zidane a ?purple nurple? before the headbutt counter-offensive.

It has also been reported by FOXSports.com, that Materazzi may have used a racial slur which provoked the headbutt. Even with this news surfacing, the headlines across the globe are filled with words like ?regrettable? and ?stupid? smeared across bolded headlines. If Materazzi did indeed racially offend and nipple-twist Zidane — I?d say the headbutt was almost justifiable. He?d be lucky that?s all that happened! Just try twisting Charles Oakley?s nipple and see what happens!

I also have to vent about how annoying it was to watch Italy pack it in on defense. From halftime on, the ball was on Italy?s side the majority of the time. France was really working hard on offense, and it?s no wonder? Italy had almost every fielded player playing defense! Every time France would make a move, that one white shirt would be flanked by three or four blue shirts. The strategy became clear: Italy wanted no part of this being an exciting game with goals and the like. It was unlikely there would be a single goal coming out of half time. All of Italy?s players were defending, so France couldn?t score. And as such, Italy wouldn?t be able to score as they had but one player on offense! Doesn?t that bother anyone other than me? Sure it?s perfectly legal, but Italy might as well have jumped on each other?s backs and constructed a human wall in front of the goal.

It?s like that annoying kid you used to play Mortal Kombat with. He?d habitually choose Sub-Zero, and his move repertoire would consist of two things: freeze then uppercut, freeze then uppercut, freeze then uppercut. Sure it?s perfectly legal, but it?s cheap as hell and pretty damn annoying. I commend those of you, like France, who took the Johnny Cage approach and wielded a more balanced attack.

The fact is France outplayed Italy in the second half of that game. And just think of all the energy the French team expended on offense trying to crack Italy?s Sub-Zero defense. It?s no wonder studs like Thierry Henri weren?t available for the final shootout.

Italy has two things to thank for their World Cup final victory: Firstly, their cheap tactics on defense (to which I don?t accept the excuse ?that?s the way they play, they play tough defense.? France also played superior defense and picked at the ball all game. The difference, however, is they also put effort into their offense. And the second and most prevalent factor in Italy?s ?victory?? Luck. And when the Vatican is in your country, it should come as no surprise that luck would be on your side.

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