I’m often wrong in my sports predictions, but today I was spectacularly wrong. In my preview of the Brazil-France match I wrote, “I’m not sure that [France’s] older players, Zidane in particular, will match the fitness and intensity they displayed in their inspired win over Spain on Tuesday. . .I still like Brazil” As it turned out, the French players, Zidane in particular, exceeded that level of fitness and intensity. For 80 minutes, they were first to every ball. Indeed, Brazil looked like they were playing in slow motion. The final was 1-0 France, but it could have been worse.
My prediction for Portugal-England was much closer to the mark. I wrote of that match, “History suggests that England will raise its game to the level of this quality opponent and then find some heart-breaking way to lose.” Actually, for the first hour Portugal lowered its game to England’s level. But after the sending off of Wayne Rooney, England played its best soccer of the tournament only to lose
once again on the heartbreak of penalty kicks.
Rooney disgraced himself, and his coach cannot be blamed for his sending off. Yet playing Rooney alone up front, where he gets bounced around by two centerbacks, is an invitation for this volatile young star to explode in frustration. And using Rooney as a target man is a waste of his talent — almost like using Lebron James preliminary to set screens. And while we’re second guessing England’s coach, how about the decision to bring only four forwards to the tournament when two of them (Rooney and Owen) had serious fitness issues and a third is a 17 year-old who has never played in a top division club match (and was never used in Germany)? In the end, I can’t help feeling that England will never succeed again until they have a coach who fully believes in his team. If Jurgen Klinsmann can allow and induce his less talented German team to play mostly free-flowing football with two forwards leading the attack, why couldn’t Sven-Goran Eriksson?
So now we’re down to four teams. All are European for the first time since 1982. And the 1958 Brazil team will remain the only non-European team to win the World Cup on European soil.