Azzurri: Campione del mondo

Yes, it's true. The Italian squad is the newly crowned World Cup champion.

After an extra time thriller vs. 1998 Cup champs France, the Azzurri win on penalty kicks 5-3. Think of the parties in the North End last night. I didn't hear of any cars getting trashed, but then again, I haven't tuned into the news this morning. The match was definitely an exciting one, with an early penalty on the Italians for a "trip" of winger Florent Malouda in the 6th minute of play. Zinedine Zidane chipped in a goal on the penalty kick to put Les Bleus up 1-0. However, Italy found their equalizer with a beautiful header later on in the first half. That's the way things stayed, even through extra time, with both teams coming dangerously close to scoring for a second time. The decider of penalty kicks was the usually-accurate Davide Trezeguet hitting the top of the crossbar and getting denide while the sure-footed Italians faked out Febien Barthez each time to score 5 straight and win the match and the cup.

Zinedine Zidane

Throughout the World Cup, I have been impressed with the play of Zinedine Zidane. So much impressed, that I even considered searching for a Zidane replica jersey to sport on Sunday. However, my opinion of him deflated in extra time vs. Italy when he landed a head-butt on an Italian player, thus getting himself red-carded and sent off to end his international career on a disgraceful note. How unfortunate that a player, a highly skilled player, whose legacy started in the 1998 world cup with a championship, gets to leave on such a sour note, a note that will surely resonate with Zidane fans and Zidane-haters worldwide. One can only imagine what could have been if Zidane was taking a penalty kick at the end of Sunday's game. France might well be hoisting the trophy today.

What may have been

I am, like many Americans, always a champion for the underdog. That is why I was rooting for Australia to make the field of 16, and to upset the Italians in the second round. Unfortunately, the Socceroos fell short, giving a way a highly-debatable penalty kick at the very end of stoppage time in their match vs. Italy. What if the Italians had gone to extra time a man down vs. the Aussies? Perhaps Australia would have pulled off the upset. What would that have meant for the rest of the field? Well, my thought is that Australia would have had the most amazing tournament ever.

Given that they weren't even expected to make the round of 16, I'd say Guus Hiddink managed the boys from down-under quite well. However, the next match for Australia, had they toppled the giants, would have been vs. another upstart, Ukraine. Definitely a winnable match for the Australians.

Do not ask the Germans about "What if..." in this case, because that would mean the German squad would get to play Australia or Ukraine in the semi-finals. Given the superiority of the home squad to both of the upstarts, I'd say the finals would have been a lock for Michael Ballack and the boys from Germany. Still, things turned out the way they did with Italy ending Australia's world cup dream in stoppage time, defeating Ukraine handily, and then breaking Germany's collective hearts in extra time, and then finally winning it all vs. France. A good, action-packed World Cup in 2006, to say the least.

Wayne Rooney

Don't talk to me about Rooney. That punk may make me into a Liverpool fan yet...