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The World Cup

The World Cup is over. The month-long celebration of the world’s biggest sporting event has concluded. Well, the world’s biggest sporting event in all countries not named the United States . Here, the Beautiful Game ranks in popularity somewhere between paintball tournaments and paint-drying exhibitions. In the rest of the world, however, it is a pretty big deal.

It became a pretty big deal around my house, too. When one finds oneself at loose ends around one’s house while waiting for neck surgery to heal, weekday afternoon soccer matches seemed to check in as the only thing worth watching on the tube. Armed with my recliner, remote and a generous supply of pain pills helpfully provided by Surgical Quack, I began watching the World Cup and got quite interested in it. I don’t wish surgery requiring an extended recovery on anybody, but if it becomes necessary, I would advise putting it off until 2010.

The World Cup was held in Europe . No longer able to host world wars since NATO and the Soviet Bloc had created a true premiere league in 1946, the Europeans hosted the next best thing. It had to, as the Germans, while given the opportunity to host the World Cup, will likely be awarded no more world wars, at least until the unified country gets its rebuilding program back up to speed and again starts eyeing Alsace-Lorraine like a snake eyes a field mouse.

The host Germans had fielded a pretty good team, racking up early victories like the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front in 1941. This had created widespread nationalism in the Fatherland, as huge German crowds gathered in wildly-enthusiastic displays not seen since they were cheering goose-stepping SS.

The Germans took to teuton their own horn in other ways. The popular American custom of flying car flags took off in Germany , causing the autobahn to resemble I-81 on a Saturday morning in October.

In the end, though, as happened following early German victories in 1914 and 1939, Germany eventually lost, to Italy in the semi-finals. ‘Never bet on the Germans’ seemed to hold as true for the World Cup as it had for the world wars. This was a crushing defeat not seen around Berlin since the RUTS inflicted by the Red Army in 1945. All of those tickets that scalpers had been making fortunes peddling suddenly became as worthless as a mark in the Soviet Occupation Zone.

The championship match came down to Italy and France . Italy and France ? Italy has had great difficulty finding itself on the winning side in anything ever since the Roman Legion experienced a run by the Visigoths a couple of thousand years ago that not even superb goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon could have stopped.

The fighting capabilities of the Italian soldier were best summed up by the elderly Italian gentleman in Joseph Heller’s masterpiece ‘Catch22.’ When Nately claimed that the American Army was second to none, the paisan had rejoined with ‘and the Italian Army is second to all.’

The French, well, these are the folks whose very first instruction to new cadets at St. Cyr is the proper way to hand over one’s sidearm at the surrender ceremony. These were hardly the two countries that pop immediately to mind in connection with ‘victory.’

Nevertheless, while it might have seemed that given the culinary reputations of both countries, Alain Ducasse going against Mario Batali in an Iron Chef competition would have been more suitable, the Azzurri and Les Grenouille squared off for the World Cup. The name of the game in soccer is defense and both of these squads were pretty good at it. Perhaps the French Army should have kicked soccer balls at Guderian’s tanks.

The World Cup final was the swan song for retiring frog superstar Zinedine Zidane, whose parents had displayed a real sense of humor when naming time came- “let’s call this one Zinedine.” The great French playmaker had certainly shown that famous French flair for the dramatic.

Zidane had gone out with a bang, or a butt, as it were. The French superstar had planted his forehead into the chest of Marco Materazzi in a cheap-shot display that no doubt had MVToo leaping to his feet and exclaiming, “That’s what I’m talking about.” Materazzi had dropped like Charles Whitman was in Olympiastadion. Zidane received the dreaded red card and was escorted from the pitch like Louis XVI to the guillotine. Zidane will likely be as popular back home as Louis was during the French Revolution.

The contest was decided on a shootout. This seems about as silly as deciding the MNC with a field-goal kicking contest or the Final Four with a game of Horse, but the Europeans are nothing if not silly. Without their star, the French had little chance and quickly showed it. Italy won the World Cup while Zidane had to console himself with being awarded the Victory Ball, apparently awarded to the tournament’s dirtiest player.

And so the 2006 World Cup is history. I shall miss it. One thing is for sure: without it, the Dead Zone has gotten a lot deader.

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