Congratulations go out to Italy for winning their first World Cup since 1982, and their fourth overall. Not many believed they even had a chance after the goal-fixing scandal that took place in the Italian league this past season – but they were able to block all of that out, and play sound soccer throughout the tournament, winning an incredible semi-final game against the equally surprising Germans, and then outlasting the French in the finals.
Here are some of my thoughts about the final:
1. First, and foremost, the best header of the entire cup took place when Zidane rammed his noggin into an Italian player’s chest. The French will probably make him the leader of their military, as physical aggressiveness like this hasn’t been shown by a Frenchman since Napoleon was in charge.
2. All kidding aside, this ridiculous play by a captain like Zidane will probably ruin his legacy in World Cup soccer lore. A display this putrid by a captain of a sports team hasn’t been displayed since Lindros slept with Brind’amour’s wife.
3. I think settling a World Cup final (or any World Cup elimination) by penalty-kicks is embarrassing – it should be settled on the pitch. I’ll go into my potential solutions later on.
4. Germany played a great host for this cup – hopefully distancing themselves even further from the bad images that some still think of when they think of Germany.
5. Although soccer will probably never really catch on in the United States, it was nice to see high viewership in this country – even from part-time (or hardly ever) soccer fans.
It is obvious that there are still some major issues that FIFA has to deal with in order to increase the pace and enjoyability of the game. Below, I will go into some of the problems that I see, and potential solutions:
1. The dives that players take have been getting out of hand for a number of years. You know it is a problem when you hear of players and teams practicing them. It takes away from the fun of the game, and could be a major reason why the game is lagging in the United States. Players drop to the ground as if they were shot by a machine gun, even with the slightest of touches (sometimes not even touched). Even thought FIFA has stressed to the referees that they can give cards to players they think are doing this, not a single card was given this World Cup to a dive. This is unacceptable. I can’t fully blame the refs, because one cannot expect a ref to see everything on the pitch. So, here are a couple of solutions to remedy this:
a. Have officials watch video of each of the games after they have ended, and award yellow cards to any person that flamboyantly dove in the game. This will have an immediate reduction of dives (especially from those stinkin’ Argentineans and Portuguese). As some of you know, that once a person gets a yellow card, a second yellow card causes an immediate one-game suspension.
b. Have officials in the stands watch the game, and radio down any dives to the referee on the field. This way, a yellow card can be immediately given to the player.
c. Have a second referee on the field who can see a different angle and may be able to help the first referee determine dives (or have an extra referee behind the goal at either end, so that they can see potential dives at angles the regular referee can’t).
2. Offsides traps are being employed more and more (the Germans were masters of this). It slows the game down immensely, and takes away potentially big plays. FIFA wants more scoring, and this is how this can be achieved - eliminate offsides on any free kicks (direct kicks, indirect kicks, and corner kicks). This will allow the players more open space to make plays.
3. Penalty kicks are a ludicrous way to decide meaningful games. In elimination round matches, some other means to crown a victor must be used. Sure, penalty kicks are really exciting, but a hard fought game being decided by this is deflating. This is probably the most difficult issue to solve. I have given it some thoughts, and this is what I have come up with:
a. After the overtime session, reduce the number of players to 8-on-8 – this will open the field tremendously, and should eliminate some of the clogging play (also, give each team an extra 2 substitutions for this session). This part of the game should have no time-limit, and should only be decided by the first team that scores.
b. Rather than doing two 15-minute overtimes, go with 2 30-minute overtimes (with each team getting an additional substitute). This may not solve anything, especially if the teams are tired, but I just think the current structure is not long enough.
c. Eliminate the goal keepers after the two overtimes – or do not allow them to use their hands at all. Yes, I know this is extreme, but I’m just trying to think outside the box.
d. Eliminate all offsides after the two overtimes. Again, it might be extreme, but I am trying to come up with something.
I encourage any of you who have any ideas to share them with me. If you don’t care about soccer – I’m sorry – I’ll have a non-soccer-related post midweek. See you in South Africa for World Cup 2010!