July 8, 2006
So it all comes down to this. Sixty three games have come and gone. Twenty-nine long days have elapsed. Two teams remain, and nobody has a clue which one will prevail. Both are entirely capable of snagging the trophy, so long as the following scenarios fall into place...
France Will Win If—
Italians stop praying. The land of The Vatican seems to have benefited from something resembling divine intervention during the course of the knock-out phase. It's as though the All Mighty has been able to resist tampering with their performance until, well, the very end of the match. Take the Aussie game for example. The Italians received a true blessing when they drew the gimme match up of the first round, but their apparent ineptitude allowed them to squander the wonderful opportunity. That is, until the very final minute. Somehow they sold the referee on one of their now-patented dives. Even the Juventes players couldn't have asked for a better scam. And as for the semi-final performance against Germany ? They did elevate their game, but come on. One would have to be a "my-kid-won't-say-The-Pledge" types to deny that someone's up there — and he loves Carpaccio.
The French embrace diversity. It seems like only a year ago that the suburbs of Paris resembled something of a war zone, a constant reminder that one of the world's great intellectual nations has somehow fallen behind the curve when it comes to appreciating ethnic differences. Well, one need only look at their roster to see that The Roosters are loaded with minorities. In fact, minorities are the majority when it comes to soccer talent. According to modern legend, The Ivory Coast ended their civil war thanks to The Beautiful Game. Perhaps a second World Cup trophy will help ease the serious tensions that surround Paris .
Italy Will Win If—
The French finally act their age. Few Americans seem to understand exactly how old their stars are. Zinadine Zidane is 34, Fabien Barthez is 35, and Thierry Henry is pushing 29. Now, in order to calculate a soccer player's effective age, you have to multiply by 1.5 — it's sort of like dog years. If that player happens to be a striker, then you can slap on another year or two. What's more, unlike Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, these guys haven't enjoyed any age-extending elixirs. They're running on passion fumes.
The Italians avoid The Spotlight Curse. It seems as though the media has cursed every team and player upon whom it rains plaudits. The biggest names have proven to be the biggest busts — starting with the entire Brazilian roster. The tournament's most eagerly scrutinized player, Wayne Rooney, walked off the pitch in disgrace after making no contribution whatsoever. And as for those who the media tried to sabotage? Just ask Jurgen Klinsmann how well their efforts worked. Somehow, though, Team Italy managed to avoid any pre-tournament hype or player deification. They just showed up and played. Now, let's see if they can keep it up.