Tuesday, July 18, 2006

IHT's WorldCup Awards

The World Cup is over, Italy is the champion, and it's time for a review of some of the highs and lows of the month-long jamboree. Here's an expanded version of my assessment in my column in the International Herald Tribune.

Most Energetic Performance: Franz Beckenbauer, the tournament's organizer, not only attends most matches, but finds time to get married to Heidi Burmester, his longtime sweetheart.

Most Abject Performance: Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England coach, manages to bamboozle his own players by switching formations on them every game and by bringing along an untried 17-year-old, Theo Walcott, apparently as some sort of mascot.

Best Quote (until he spoiled it): "This is so beautiful, we want it to carry on," says the magician of the French midfield, Zinedine Zidane, as he comes full circle at the age of 34.

Worst Quote: "We're here for a war," says Eddie Johnson, a striker for the United States, summing up the stakes in Germany.

Silliest Slogan: "Welcome to Germany -- Land of Ideas." Well, yes, the Reformation, Marxism, E=mc2, and some others we'll pass over.

Most Dramatic Discovery: Germans realize they love their flag and keep on waving it, even in defeat.

Best Banner: "Allez Les Vieux" - held aloft by a French fan encouraging his old but resurgent team.

Most Dubious Banner: "Let's Roll" - an American favorite.

Headiest Moment: Zidane deploys his head in the final to knock Materazzi off his feet.

Most Welcome Absence: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president.

Most Forlorn Cry: Rooo-ney...Roooo-ney....Rooo-ney.

Most Bizarre Presence: Diego Maradona of Argentina and his band of wild-eyed acolytes.

Finest Theater: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal manages to match his outrageous talent with equally outrageous acting designed to win over skeptical referees.

Class Act: Jurgen Klinsmann, the outgoing German coach, goes from villain to idol as he shakes up the German football establishment and proves that, yes, you can spend a lot of your time in California and still produce a fine, attacking side.

Most Surreal Sight: The players of Serbia and Montenegro representing a country that no longer exists.

Most Uplifting Sight: Glorious Ghana at its best.

Most Zealous Fans: The South Koreans, roaring on a side that is blur of swarming movement. Closely followed by the never-say-die Australians.

Oddest Decision: David Beckham, the England captain, decides to spend all his time on the right touchline, apparently marking the linesman.

Most Depressing Statistic: Frank Lampard of England takes 24 shots at goal, more than any other player here apart from Lukas Podolski of Germany, and scores zero goals. He can't even find the net with a penalty.

Most Disputed Statistic: How many gazillion people actually watched all this on television.

Biggest non-stories: Polish hooligans, German brothels, rightist thugs, English claims that football's coming home.

Largest Unanswered Question: How to get out of Kaiserslautern at night and live to tell the tale.

Worst Culinary Call: Serving chili con carne in 97-degree heat in the media centers at the stadiums.

World Cup Weirdness Award: American rather than German beer is served in the stadiums. It's a Budweiser, but for legal reasons too complicated to explain, it just says "Bud" on the plastic bottles.

Most Beautiful Player: The peerless Andrea Pirlo of Italy, who demonstrates that, in football as in much else, breeding counts.

Most Beautiful Goal: Esteban Cambiasso of Argentina gets on the end of 24-pass move that is part ballet, part advanced mathematics, part instinct and part genius - Borges would have liked this one.

Most Colonial Gesture: Peter Crouch, England's gangling striker, yanks the dreadlocks of the Trinidad and Tobago defender, Brent Sancho, as he rises to head a rare English goal.

Least Convincing Football Fan: Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.

Newest Fashion Statement: National flags worn as sarongs.

Biggest Whiner: DaMarcus Beasley of the United States, who keeps saying he need more instructions from his coach, Bruce Arena.

Flimsiest Favorites: After all the hype, Ronaldinho of Brazil goes missing. He's joined by Roberto Carlos, who decides to adjust his socks rather than mark Thierry Henry, so gifting the French their winning goal. Ronaldo carries five extra kilos but still sets a record: 15 goals in World Cups.

Tournament Lion: Gennaro Gattuso of Italy, who wears his heart on his sleeve and demonstrates how far guts can take you.

Worst Psychological Problems: The Dutch and the Spanish still can't get it together at the World Cup.

Scond Largest Unanswered Question: Can South Africa possibly organize something like this by 2010?

Most Outdated Cliché: The Germans are dull.

Happiest Breakthrough: England realizes the war ended 61 years ago and a lot has happened since then.

Most Painful and Most Repeated Cliché: Football's more than a game.

Best Referee: Benito Archundia of Mexico, who helps make the Germany-Italy semi-final a classic.

Nuttiest Referee: Valentin Ivanov of Russia loses it in the Netherlands-Portugal game, becoming a blur of yellow and red cards.

Darkest Puzzle: What did Materazzi say?

Most Intriguing Hypothetical Question: Suppose Zidane's 104th-minute header in the final had found the net.

Best Reason for Having Gone Through All This: The beauty of it.

Related Post: F365's WorldCup Awards

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