Monday, July 10, 2006

To Live and Die in Germany

Usually after the World Cup ends, there's a sense of desperation undercutting the elation, a sad reminder that we won't get to see another such event for 4 more years.

This year, it almost feels like a relief. The knockout stages, loaded with potentially great teams, produced 2 classic games (Germany - Italy and Germany- Argentina) and a cluster of matches marred by over-zealous fouling, foul-calling and play-acting.

The best team-as-tournament-metaphor is provided by Portugal, a team full of attacking talent and sensational skill, boasting a number of players who play on the world's best teams, a team that was known best for its cynical approach to the game, the most spectacular example being the pneumatically-driven diving of Cristiano Ronaldo.

One of the game's great young talents, it's maddening to watch such an incredible athelete brazenly attempt to fool the officials (and the worst part is that he's a very poor diver, in the sense that he's ridiculously obvious) and worse yet, to deny that anything is going on to the press. With Marco Materazzi as the other most obvious fibber, players and coaches think nothing of giving the press a line that is easily refutable by anybody who bothered to actually watch the games.

In a similar vein, I remarked to a co-worker that I would believe that Juventus will be relegated when I see it happen. In other words, the game has become so cynical and jaded that even the most reasonable expectations of personal or institutional behavior are idealistic meanderings more than anything else. Cheating, whether it be match-fixing or gamesmanship on the field, must be addressed by somebody before the game becomes even more of a farce than it already is.

The other, more insidious, cyncism, is the cynicism of tactics. Brazil, Argentina and England were each regarded as three of the most talented teams enterting into the finals. All three crashed out before the semifinals, hamstrung by their respective coaches into playing a style dominated by caution. Oddly, only the Germans, known for decades for their pragmatism, played an exuberant style of pushing forward and trying to create their own luck.

That Italy, the eventual winners, were one of the more adventurous sides in the knockouts should serve as a clarion call. Let your players run free, let your wingers be wingers, try to win by scoring goals; not by preventing them.

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