Saturday, July 01, 2006

Dark Days, and Salvation Avec Les Bleus

These are dark days at a pretty move as one by one the teams we've attached ourselves to head home in tears. Argentina's loss yesterday--to our most disliked side in the tournament--was the breaking point for Derek and me (I still haven't been able to bring myself to watch the match on tape); for Lisa today it was England. Our emails say tentative things like how are you doing? are you holding up okay?, as though inquiring after the loss of loved ones (and so perhaps the neighbors will show up bearing casserole dishes!) or seethe with righteous anger and indignation. It's so much fun, we say, to be an American at the World Cup, because you aren't invested in the results the way you would be if you were from England or Spain or Argentina, because you won't get your heart broken, except you do anyway.

I have to remind myself: it always happens this way. In 2002 the Cup was effectively over for me when Senegal went out in the quarter-finals, although of course I never expected them to go all the way as I did Argentina. But after that it was just about watching how the rest of the matches played out, with no particular attachments or passions. And once again my World Cup ardor has cooled. I'm starting to think about club football again, and remind myself that you often get better (prettier!) matches there anyway, and find myself actually looking forward to getting back to a life that doesn't involve watching several hours of football most days, a life in which I can sleep in, go running, shop at the Saturday morning farmer's market.

Still, it's a struggle not to turn bitter. In particular, I have some thoughts I'm trying to shape into a coherent whole about the triumph of dull, defensive, conservative footballing over beauty and dignity (and if I hear Balboa praise one more diving player for "selling it!" or using the term "professional foul" again I may chuck the TV out the window) and the "winning is everything" mentality that values nothing else. And then, as Derek mentioned, over at the England blog Shawn's had to shut down comments thanks to virtual hooliganism--and I hear unpleasant reports from one local bar about frat boy types cheering on Germany against Argentine "beaners." Nice! So even though I feel mad and hurt and a little bit broken by how things are turning out, it's nothing new, and I don't want to turn around and realize I'm behaving like that kind of fan.

So, I am turning to Les Bleus now, putting aside my dismay over Thierry Henry's dive across Puyol* and focusing instead on the smiles bursting across the faces of Zidane and Barthez as they raced arm-in-arm toward the stands (one of my favorite shots of the tournament) after the Spain match, on the wonder of watching what this new kid Ribery has in him, on the great comeback story of the former champs humiliated in 2002. I'm going to have a good time watching France even if I can't get behind them with the same fervor I could some other teams.

We're all tired. Our nerves are frayed. The jolly it's-a-small-world atmosphere has given way to the harsh reality of failure and defeat. And in four years, we'll fling ourself with optimism into the carnival all over again, and it shouldn't be any other way.

*Has ever a player so quickly plummeted in my estimation as Thierry Henry? All year I thought him the very epitome of supercool, one of my favorites on and off the pitch. In two short months there was first the post-Barca tantrum, accompanied by--thank you, Scott Murray, for calling it what it was, his stupid casual misogyny--followed by his ungentlemanly blame laid on teammate Ribery, and finally the Puyol incident, which reminds me I need to send him a card congratulating him on his gender reassignment surgery.


Shaun Huston said...

This is a lovely, almost heart rending, post, and yet, perhaps because I see the world too much through bleu colored glasses, I am moved to take issue with the characterization of this World Cup as "the triumph of dull, defensive, conservative footballing over beauty and dignity." If anything is staining this tournament, it is not the dullness of the play so much as the absurdity of the refereeing (and behind the referees lies FIFA). Coaches and players are clearly exploiting the trends in the officiating. This is cynical, even destructive, and cause for dismay, but it is not the same as the triumph of the boring and defensive over the vital and progressive. As much as I wish Henry had not put on the show he did v. Spain, and as I angered as I was by Italy's trickery vs. Australia, in neither case do I see the outcomes of those matches being any different had those maneuvers not been played. It seems to me that France, on the whole and Henry's moment of play acting aside, is playing football with "beauty and dignity." The team that clearly is not is Portugal (honestly, I don't find this German team to be hateful or even particularly dull, and Italy is as Italy does; even though many of their imitators are not serious about counter-attacking, the Italians are sincere about going forward). Hopefully, Portugal will return to playing with the kind of skill they are capable of, the semi-final will be blessed with a referee who will not put up with their nonsense, and France will outclass the Portuguese they way they did Brazil.

My view of the Cup may not only be unduly shaded by bleu, but the fact that it has been so since the 1980s. Like most American soccer fans, I develop tournament-to-tournament, and game-to-game loyalties during the World Cup, but also I have a persistent attachment to France. In much the same way, I have a long term antipathy towards Argentina that blinds me to their gifts even when they probably merit better from me. This not only dates to 1986 and 1990 (and, yes, Germany has much to answer for there, too), but also somewhat perversely to 1978 (my first boyhood idol was Johan Cruyff). Such loyalities may keep me from fully enjoying, say, the wonder of Senegal in 2002, but it also means that my heart has fewer chances to be broken.

greenoise said...

first of all, thanks for your wonderful blog. i've been reading ever since it got linked from SCUSA message board. this post was one of the best. i had to fight back tears [of joy]at work after the france-spain game. my love of soccer peaked when zidane flew in from some altered plane to score two against brazil in '98. [i've had little love for brazil since their dirty play against the US in 1994.] watching barthez and zidane after the spain game was like having eight years of life compressed into an instant. it may as well have been the stade de france. if there's anything better than rooting for the underdog it's watching a worthy team find their way again after years in the wilderness.

i also have to thank you for pointing out the shortcomings of thierry henry - i also thought he was pure class, but then again, i don't read much from the european press on off-the-pitch drama, player comments, etc. his dive was truly disappointing, and thankfully, france were the better team overall and the result would have stood even if he hadn't drawn the foul. most of the comments on the france page from spain supporters were gracious in defeat, relieved to know they hadn't been eliminated due to poor refereeeing and home team advantage, confident in a better and more experienced side four years hence. one of the best displays of sportsmanship in this WC filled with all manner of ugliness.

anyway, my condolences on your teams' respective exits from the tournament. here's to seeing a few more 'pretty moves' from zidane, ribery, et compagnie...

p.s. had the same angst about the farmer's market. luckily there's still a whole summer left to take in the food and the atmosphere. maybe some great soccer will happen from time to time as well. maybe tonight.

allez les bleus! RCTID!

Zach Dundas said...

I agree that France suddenly became fantastic over the last two matches, and that the Zidane/Barthez brotherluv sent a warm frisson of nostalgia down my spine. As far as conservatism and dullness goes, I think Lynda's largely right—the knock-out rounds have seen some pretty dire tactics. 4-5-1 should be banned somehow. But if we end up with the likely France/Germany final, won't that count as a vindication for positive, attacking soccer?

Lynda said...

Thanks for the nice words, Shaun & greenoise.

Shaun--I agree with you that Henry's actions did not ultimately decide the fate of the game, and I would not even be especially bothered by it (it wasn't a particularly egregious dive as these things go) if he hadn't made so much unsportsmanlike fuss about not being a diver following the Champions League final (in which he also scored off a penalty given as a result of a teammate's blatant dive). But he is a good player, and I have always liked Barthez and am coming round to the rest of les bleus, mostly because of their nice play of late, well-deserved victories, and decent sportsmanship--and Zidane's triumphant showing.

You know, it's a funny thing about Argentina--I used to hate, HATE their team, especially after I watched them manhandle Mexico last year, and I was all prepared to hate them anew--until I started listing off my favorite players and realized how many were Argentinian. And then they won me in their game against Serbia & Montenegro. I am either incapable of sustaining a soccer grudge or hopelessly disloyal, depending on how you want to spin that one!

As for Germany, I have no idea why I dislike them so much. That they bore me to tears (even the new improved Klinsmann version) is reason insufficient for the proportion of my dislike. They just remind me of machines, and they freak me out. I really want them to get knocked out on Tuesday, and yet Zach has me rethinking this: seeing Italy go through is certainly no victory for the kind of soccer I want to see rewarded.

greenoise--have we missed berry season altogether? I hope not! And I'm counting on the Timbers to salve my soul in a couple of hours' time.

greenoise said...


re: the market - what we've missed for berries we'll recover with cherries. the rainiers are particularly good for the next few weeks...

in other farm news, sad to hear that balthazar, the french rooster and unofficial mascot, has been banned from attending any further matches. score one for the robots vs. the living creatures of planet earth.