Monday, May 23, 2022


Being a professional and playing the final, that too the last few minutes of his glorious career, Zidane should have controlled his temper. He should not have done what he did as he is the greatest of his generation.


The just-concluded football World Cup had its share of class, artistry and heart-burn but Zinadine Zidane's head-butt will be the image that will linger for long in the minds of football fans.

Truly, it was a sad end to the career of one of the greatest players of the modern era. It sometimes defies logic how great stars can undo all the good work in the matter of a few seconds.

Before I discuss the Zidane episode, I must admit I was taken by suprise by the hype and excitement that the World Cup generated in India. Although India was not in the fray, there were millions who followed the action very closely.

Many people have asked me if India can ever play in a World Cup. It will be great if India can play at this level one day, but I don't see that day coming in the near future. We are lagging way behind and the only way we can achieve those standards is by proper planning. We have the talent and I do not agree that we lack in speed, stamina and strength.

If we have to qualify for 2010 or 2014, we have to plan long term with the under-23 as well as the different age groups like 16-18 and 15-16 with lots of foreign exposure by playing, training and watching matches abroad.

The All-India Football Federation should make it compulsory for the NFL teams to have age group sides like it is the case in Goa. Regular tournaments for these youngsters will bring the talent to the limelight.

If all the states conduct age group tournaments and leagues, it will be easy to attract young players to football. Youth development is the key and corporate houses have to come forward in this endeavour. Only then will we achieve something, not by investing in readymade players for the sake of instant results and trophies.

Coming back to the World Cup, it showed that big names and teams with superstar players counted for little as sides with lesser pedigree, who are coached well and tactically sound, could give them a run for their money.

When the tournament started, everyone was talking about Brazil, England, Argentina, Czech Republic, and to some extent, Spain.

Italy were considered an outside bet as despite having several star players, their performances at the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004 were nothing to write home about.

France were considered over-age and most people thought that it had many players who were past their sell-by date.

The tournament also showed that the ranking system used by FIFA before the World Cup was flawed. The USA and Czech Republic, ranked in the top five, were eliminated at the group stage.

On the other hand, smaller teams like Australia, Ukraine, Ghana and Ivory Coast brought freshness to the competition.

After the group stages, Germany, Argentina, Spain and Brazil were the teams catching the eye but the way France played against the Spaniards forced everyone to stand up and take notice of this bunch of "old men" and "has-beens".

Credit must be given to coach Raymond Domenech as he craftily went about plotting the demise of the youthful Spanish armada. The great Zidane was also in his element and played a stellar role in a deserved victory.

Another talking point of the World Cup was Wayne Rooney's red card in the England-Portugal match. Sven-Goran Eriksson's side was a major disappointment at the World Cup but they held on grimly to force a shootout where their nerves gave way.

The biggest upset was yet to come as nobody thought that France could get the better of Brazil, who were eager to avenge the 1998 final defeat. Zidane was the hero again as he beat the Brazilians by his wizardry and vision. Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira also had great games.

But it could not hide the fact that the defending champions were disappointing. They were unable to trap properly and their passes were mostly inaccurate. World Player of the Year Ronaldinho was a mere shadow of the man that turned out for Barcelona.

The World Cup's all-time highest goal scorer Ronaldo looked heavy and lethargic. Age betrayed Cafu and Roberto Carlos and the coach did not have the courage to give youngsters like Robinho and Cicinho more time on the pitch.

This meant that after 24 years, the semi-finals were all-European affairs.

The Germany-Italy semi-final was the best match of the tournament. It was almost like high speed chess. Both the teams fought tooth and nail but could not score.

With the match seemingly destined for a penalty shootout and wary of Germany coming out on top in these exchanges, coach Marcello Lippi went against the traditional defensive Italian formation and played with four forwards during extra-time. Surely, he was emboldened by his rock solid defence where custodian Gianluigi Buffon and captain Fabio Cannavaro were giants.

Italy reaped the benefits as they scored twice in the last three minutes to break the hosts' hearts.

The match on July 9 will forever be overshadowed by the head-butt by Zidane on Italian defender Marco Materazzi with 10 minutes left to go for the decisive penalty shootout. The French playmaker, who had earlier given his team the lead by a penalty conversion, was pulling the strings effectively before he used his head in a most unsportsmanlike manner.

With Vieira, Henry and Zidane out, Domenech's team was always going to be second favourites in penalties and hence the French renaissance came up one step short.

Materazzi must have incited Zidane by using foul language but being a professional and playing the final, that too the last few minutes of his glorious career, the Frenchman should have controlled his temper. He should not have done what he did as he is the greatest of his generation.

It was a shame and one of the reasons France lost was because their undisputed leader was not on the pitch in the final minutes.

But credit should be given to Italy as they conceded only two goals out of which one was an own goal and the other a penalty. Lippi gave an opportunity to all his outfield players and the only ones to miss out were the two reserve goalkeepers. Nine different players were on the score sheet which meant that Italy were deserving champions.

One of the disappointing features of the World Cup was the simulation and play-acting resorted to by players to get an unfair advantage and persuade the referee to give a yellow or red card to their opponents.

FIFA needs to check this disturbing trend in the same way as they have dealt with rough tackles which prompted an all-time high number of cards this time round.



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