Off the ball: Hating handsome Ronaldo
In his irreverent World Cup column Off the Ball, Andy Goldberg looks at the lighter side of the football championship.
There were so many young girls with tears in their eyes Wednesday night on the Berlin fan mile you would have thought that their favourite heart-throb actor had prematurely passed away.
And in a sense he had.
The girls had Cristiano Ronaldo's name scrawled on their backs, breasts and legs, and gasped every time his handsome super-sized image appeared on the giant screens, trotting in an upright gallop like a thoroughbred dressage horse, collapsing in a heap of pain after every tackle from those mean French defenders, but rarely threatening the French goal.
After the semi-final game in which a clinical Zinedine Zidane penalty put paid to the boys in maroon, the pouting Portuguese winger was in tears, like many of his fans.
"He is the best player at the World Cup," sobbed Miguela De Souza, a 16-year-old girl who had made the trip from Portugal in the hope of seeing her idol in the final. "It's not his fault he is so handsome. But everyone hates him for it."
But a Japanese girl had another opinion. She was one of what the Germans call a "cross fan" - a new bread of enthusiast who wears the colours of more than one team - in this case Germany, France and Italy. "I hate Ronaldo," she said, her voice spiked with venom. "He's so arrogant."
The young can wait
The legendary football commentator Oscar Wilde once said that youth is wasted on the young, and he must have had the 2006 World Cup in mind when he came up with that little gem.
FIFA on Thursday announced its nominations for the Best Young Player award: the above mentioned Ronaldo, Luis Valencia from Ecuador, Argentina's Lionel Messi, German striker Lukas Podolski, Swiss midfielder Tranquilo Barnetta and Spanish playmaker Cesc Fabregas.
Unfortunately they are all flops. Ronaldo's only goal was a penalty against Iran, Valencia and Barnetta performed creditably but didn't exactly set the world on fire, while Messi and Fabregas couldn't even get in to the first teams of their respective countries. German wunderkind Podolski did net three goals, but if he is the best young player in the world, old guys like Zinedine Zidane might be thinking of postponing their retirement for a few more years.
Charity begins at home
The funny old game of footie has shown once again that it's useless to even attempt to predict the outcome of a tournament when the standard of teams is close and random factors like the line of sight of the referee, a slip on a soggy piece of turf, the excruciating width of a post, or a single moment of inspired but unrepeatable brilliance can mean the difference between glorious success and ignominious failure.
Our office sweepstakes is a fine example of this hopelessness. Dozens of professionals, who are paid (though far too little) for their expert opinion, each put 10 euros into the pot with the winnings going to the person predicting the result of the final.
Perhaps that was a little too ambitious. Not a single person predicted France to reach the final and only two had Italy down for a place in the final. The complete failure of our team to get even a single close prediction has created a monumental headache for the sweepstakes administrator - should he return the cash to the original bettors (no way), distribute the piles of cash to the two people who at least had Italy in the final (fair enough), or, given our abject collective failure, donate all the money to a worthy cause (me)?
We should have known
In retrospect we are all idiots. How did we not mark Italy as a potential winner? As in all things in life the signs were writ large on the stadium walls. If only we had paid attention.
Over the last 30 years the Azzuri have made a World Cup final appearance every twelve years: 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006. Also they are playing in Europe, where Brazil is the only non-European team to win the championship, back in 1958 in Sweden.
Since Paul Newman lookalike Marcello Lippi took over the team two years ago they are unbeaten in 24 games - and he has imbued them with the success and confidence he gained in winning the Italian league five times with Juventus, not to mention the UEFA Champions League.
Lippi has the world's best defender in Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro, 32, and no one has scored against them in the tournament so far, if you don't count the own goal to the US. Lippi has adapted the traditional catenaccio defensive system from a mere padlock on the goal to a springboard for attack with the two full backs bombing down the wing to aid a gritty but creative midfield.
You won't be hearing any final predictions from me. But rest assured it will take all the ageing genius of Zidane et al to prevent Italy from fulfilling their regular twelve-year rendezvous with destiny.
6 July 2006
Subject: German news, World Cup 2006