Thursday, July 06, 2006

Scene is set, French Theatre or Italian Opera

For more than a month, the world was after the songs and dances of a ball. That is all going to end on that Sunday when World Football will hail their new champion. One team will have to go home without that prize, because there will be only one victor. Pardon me for getting into a pessimistic atmosphere, but if France lose they will again be called the old aged rabble and if Italy lose they can go and face the chaos back home.

Few teams faced more questions heading into the World Cup than Italy and France. The French were over the hill they couldn't even score. The Italians were consumed by the biggest football scandal in the nation’s history. No teams have answered their doubters more emphatically.

In the final, ‘The Old Lady’ will be having a huge presence. When the club is about to be demoted to the Serie-C, when they have lost their master tactician Don Fabio, when their player trainer chief is still struggling to recover from a suicide attempt, a lot of their players will be playing it out for final glory.

One man who deserves his place in the Turin-based club’s fairytales, the French midfield maestro is about to have his last appearance on the football field, a fitting finale to what has been a truly illustrious career. The 34-year-old, aided and abetted by his fellow thirty-some things Patrick Vieira and Lilian Thuram, also Juve players, had drawn the sting through plush passing and inimitable determination. His ability to make space and time for himself is exemplary of the great players. Vieira has been a true giant in the midfield and Thuram lead the ironclad French defence and earned a man-of-the-match award in the semi-final for his indomitable resistance. Nicknamed ‘le Sage’, meaning the wise man will be trying to put in all his wisdom in his 121st international match. Juventus striker Trezequet will find it very difficult to get into the pitch because of the form shown by another old Juve player, Thierry Henry, who couldn’t impress with the Italian giants at his time at the Delle Alpi.

When the French brigade of Juve have performed well in the tournament, the Italian counterparts were also more than impressive. If the French are looking really on that trophy, they need to score against the Italians, something which no opponent has done so far in this World Cup. You need to get past the ‘rock at the back’ Captain Cannavaro first. Then there is the incredible Buffon, who is looking more and more like unbeatable. Also the French have to counter the wing threat of Zambrotta and Camoranesi. Then there is the charming Juventus captain, Alessandro Del Piero, who has now regained his masterful scoring touch.

When the whistle blows in Berlin, a neutral spectator will be hoping for at least a spectacle. Even in this World Cup, where conservative Germans were taught holy chants of attack by Klinsmann, where Albiceleste exhibited supreme passing football to enchant the oppositions and spectators alike, where Catenaccio was polished into a more aggressive chic by the glamour-loving Italians, in the end, it was defensive negative football that had its silent triumph over beauty. A Portuguese national paper ‘A Bola’ described the French tactics in the semi-final as “even when ahead the French just tried to secure a slim result and bring their ship safely back to port”. Henry had some displays of acting on the field and diving that needed either a stage or a swimming pool to do him full justice. The unsympathetic reality of replay showed that many ‘fouls’ that he has suffered were just foul acting. Even in the semi-final, after a quick footwork that led to a maladroit challenge from Ricardo Carvalho, the Arsenal prima-donna fell to the floor. There is no doubt he could have stayed on his feet. Earlier against Spain too, he acted, not only did he fell to ground at a mere bumping of shoulders with Puyol, but put hands to face in pretence at being struck by a phantom elbow. The clowning around of players who wriggle in fake agony after being tackled in a bid to get an opposing player sent off, or who fall over in the penalty area to get a goal (Italy’s Grosso arguably did this in the match against Australia) are part of a cancer eating at the game. As it is often said, ‘Football will always generate controversy, that’s just the nature of the beast; like it, or lump it’.

When Colombian pop singer Shakira is going to top the bill for the kick-off party on Sunday at Berlin's Olympiastadion before the action starts on the field, fans all over the world will be praying for a Zidane Miracle not marred by any of Henry theatricals. They will be wishing a curler from Grosso, not a dive in the box.