3QD’s World Cup Analyst Alex Cooley: The Final, Or Veni, Vidi, Vici Under the Brandenburg Gate

[Alex writes] Greetings All –

After having left the country for the semis, it was obviously my fault that the hosts faltered in the final minutes and were bounced by the Italians. So, my final weekend in Berlin wasn’t quite the scenario I would have liked, but it still provided some unbelievable scenes that truly crowned my month in Germany.

Who would have dreamt that an entire country would be cheering hysterically at the conclusion of the usually token Third Place match, but that’s exactly what happened on Saturday after Germany beat Portugal to claim 3rd place. Our local bar Schmidt’s was as packed as it was for the “meanigful” games and an entire nation celebrated as it they had won the whole tournament. In a sense, they did.

I can’t emphasize how positive this World Cup has been for the Germans. The Germans have been magnificent hosts – welcoming, curious and basking in their newly found cosmopolitanism – I think its a role that suits them and one that the rest of us should encourage. An entire nation has been rejuvenated and given a lesson in positive thinking by a group of underrated footballers and their 41-flamboyant coach with his imported training methods and sports psychologists. Every time Germany scored Klinsmann jumped up and down like a little kid at Xmas, infecting every German fan with his raw enthusiasm – he proved so cuddly that even Chancellor Angela Merkel bear-hugged him and pleaded that he stick around. Now, of course, this new love affair threatens to be cut short as Klinsi seriously contemplates leaving the Germany position to accept the US Soccer Federation’s offer to take over the helm of his adopted country (and only have a 30 minute drive to work as opposed to a 14-hour plane ride), thereby further exacerbating transatlantic tensions.

For the final itself there was only place I could be – well, um, two but I was not about to shell out 1,500 Euro for a Finals ticket on Berlin Craig’s List – at least not this time. However, I was determined to do the next best thing and watch the final at the Brandenburg Gate, preferably in the very first row of the mile-long, million-person capacity “Fan Fest.”

6 hours before kick-off I claimed my spot at the front row right in front of the gigantic screen. Now granted that this might seem a ridiculous amount of time to just to hang around, but I hadn’t come here for the month just to waste the final day at some Irish pub. I passed the time talking to fans from all around the world – I heard post-mortems about a certain overpaid Swede from the English, traded Italian diving stories with Aussies and engaged in some friendly rivalry joshing with Mexico fans (Dos-Zero, mi amigo!). And there were loads of French and Italian supporters, many who had actually just completed massive train journeys just to be in Berlin for the final; they were mixing it up amiably and taking pictures of one another draped in flags and those multi-colored wigs and top hats. Other entertainment was also provided – football jugglers, German cheerleaders and a cheesy rock and roll cover band that played all sorts of glorious trash (“Video killed the Radio Star”..at a World Cup Final??!!). But the highlight of the live entertainment was a surprise visit on the stage by former President Bill Clinton who was greeted with resounding approval as he charmingly delivered some nevertheless incoherent babble about “soccer helping the plight of African children.”

Most of you watched the game so I won’t bore you with a long recap. The French were awarded a soft penalty at the opening as ZZ bounced in the spotkick off the bar – that riled the Italians into action as they equalized on a Marco Materazzi header from one of Andrea Pirlo’s probing corners and then threatened to run-over the French for the rest of the first half. Les Bleus recovered in the second half and by extra time were firmly in control of the match, with Ribery and Zindane coming close to grabbing extra-time goals. Having gone 120 minutes against the Germans in the semis Italy seemed completely spent as they defended in numbers and clung on for penalties. As we have observed, penalty shootouts are cruel but not unfair. The Italians struck 5 superb penalties under the most extreme pressure imaginable while the French missed one – such is the margin of victory at the highest level. The final kick fell to the left-back Fabio Grosso, who added to his own cup legend that includes a last minute semi-final winner and a last-minute penalty-winning dive against Australia, sending all Italian fans into pure ecstasy and decisively erasing 24 years of Azzurri hurt.

Of course, aside from the drama of the penalty shootout the story of the match was Zidane who completely lost the plot and head-butted Materazzi 10 minutes from the end of extra time (rumor seems to be that Materazzi provoked him by calling him a “terrorist” or something). Out of character? Not really..Zidane has always had a dark side – while everyone remembers him orchestrating France’s 1998 triumph against Brazil, they forget that ZZ had been suspended in the group stages of that tournament for a similar red card when he was provoked by the Saudi Arabian team. Thus ends the career and legend of the best footballer of his generation..

Other circles closed last night. 16 years after the Germans had claimed their 3rd trophy on Italian soil, the Italians returned the favor to the hosts. David Trezeguet was the lone unsuccessful penalty taker, balancing out the euphoric Golden Goal that he scored in 2000 to break Italian hearts in the Euro final. The Italians, for the first time, won a World Cup penalty shootout, having suffered defeat in PKs in the 1990 semis at home, the 1994 final against Brazil and in 1998 against France. And just as in 1982 when Italian football was mired in scandal, the Azzurri victory came during a time in which 4 top Italian football clubs (of which 13 national squad members are members) are facing fines and relegation for match-fixing. Let’s hope that this World Cup triumph finally forces Italian officials to take real steps to clean up the insidious filth that is currently Italian domestic football.

But none of this mattered under a Berlin starry night as one million people started the final mega-party of the month with the symbol of German unification glowing in the background. Fireworks and confetti exploded over us, some Azzurri fans next to me proudly waved their replica trophies and I spent about 10 minutes making silly faces on the large screen as green, white and red lasers emanated from the stage. As I walked to meet up with some friends who were stuck further back, I made my way through waves of jubilating Italians and utterly despondent Frenchmen. Les Bleus were valiant runners-up and proved to all detractors who had dared to write them off (including me) that they, in fact, should be considered the dominant national team in world football of the last decade. As we left the laser shows and pulsating party at the fan zone we walked along the river to the illuminated beach bar by the recently finished main train station. Some parts of Berlin at night are just breathtaking and this area is one of them- a few Italians were so delighted that they threw themselves from various bridges, obviously unaware that the water in the Spree River is as about as dirty as a Juventus referee. After a couple of beers, I said a heart-felt good-bye to my wonderful German friends and made my way back one last time through the madness of the bars of OranienburgerStrasse.

With the end of the cup its now time for me to leave this 180 sq. meter flat in Berlin and go back to my comparative hut in New York city where I’ll try and do some work for a change. Another World Cup is history and we all should accept the triumph of the Azzurri with grace and congratulate the Italians – they are world champions and I will not tolerate any “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts.” They defended at a superior level and conquered all opponents; they comfortably strolled through one of the two “groups of death” in the first round, defeated the hosts in a tension-packed semi and kept their bottle when it counted in front of 1.5 billion worldwide viewers.

I want to thank all of you on 3QD for your emails and comments. Somehow, we’ll all have to manage to live for another four years without World Cup football, although – strictly-speaking, World Cup qualifying starts in just 24 months. In the meantime I’m going to dig out those Pavorotti CDs while getting ready in the morning, picture the look on Fabio Grosso’s face as he buried his penalty and finally appreciate the meaning of those last three words of Nessun Dorma:

“Vincero [I shall triumph], VIN-cero!..VIN-CEE-ROOO!”