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Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Oh my God, the French did it again World Cup Open Thread

Stuart Franklin/Bongarts, via Getty Images
Members of the French team celebrated their
1-0 win over Brazil, the defending champion and
tournament favorite, in the quarterfinals.

France Beats Brazil at Its Own Game

Published: July 2, 2006

Next Match: Tuesday July 4

FRANKFURT, July 1 — At age 34, Zinédine Zidane has prematurely lost much of his hair but little of his magnificent soccer skill, which was on stirring display Saturday night as France ousted the five-time champion Brazil from the World Cup.

It was Zidane's looping free kick in the 57th minute that forward Thierry Henry volleyed into the net for a 1-0 victory, setting up a semifinal against Portugal on Wednesday.

While Brazil appeared lethargic, almost uninterested — until it was forced into a frantic attempt to level the score — France beat the defending champion Brazilians at their own beautiful game: crisp short passes on the ground, ornamental footwork and an effervescent spirit.

Brazil, which had appeared in the previous three World Cup finals, winning twice, never achieved its usual joyful brand of samba soccer in this tournament. And now it exits having been thoroughly beaten twice by Zidane and France in the past eight years in soccer's global championship tournament.

In 1998, Zidane, widely considered one of soccer's greats, scored two goals in a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the final of the World Cup outside Paris, setting off the largest celebration on the Champs-Élysées since the end of World War II.

He is scheduled to retire after this World Cup, but his going-away party has been postponed for at least one more match. He seems free, unburdened by pressure or expectation, exulting in a fabulous deferment of the end of his career.

On Saturday, Zidane spryly juggled the ball on his thigh. He fired wraparound passes. He dashed vigorously and creatively from one flank to another. And he dribbled intricately around and through the Brazilian midfielders as if they were cones on a practice field.

"Precisely because he's going to retire, he's fully invested in this game," Raymond Domenech, France's coach, said of Zidane. "He doesn't have to calculate anything. Every moment is perhaps his last one."

Meanwhile, Brazil was left exhausted, lacking in urgency and curiously indolent until the final half hour of play. Ronaldinho, considered the world's best player, was pushed from midfield up to forward, but he failed again to become sufficiently involved.

Instead, Ronaldinho disappeared into a smothering French defense that used as many as nine men to silence Brazil, and he was thoroughly outperformed by Zidane as a playmaker.

And Rio cried in shock.

How big was this? The BBC showed this game over the dramatic England loss.

The French were regarded as slow and old, until they played like the pros they are.
People seem to have forgotten how Viera and Henry won Arsenal back to back championships by going after the goal. They may have laid back against the Swiss, but when they needed to play as a team, not a collection of stars, not relying on one player to come through, they did. They were also the only team which knew they could beat the Brazilians, because these guys, these old guys, had done it once before.

It would have been nice if the Brazilians showed up, and Ronaldinho had put down the paella and chocolate before the end of Barca's season, but they didn't, and Zindane isn't just playing to be the toast of Madrid during the winter. Like Pele was the first black Brazilian to be a national hero, Zindane is the first Frenchman of Arab ethnicity to become a major sporting hero. In a society where minorities can be seen as outsiders, Les Bleus are a testiment to the multicultural society which France has become.

It wasn't until 1998 that Les Bleus were taken seriously in a country who's sporting heroes were individual athletes, like Tour De France winners, rally and downhill racers. Their victory against Brazil was stunning then, and stunning now.

posted by Steve @ 1:31:00 PM

1:31:00 PM

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