Monday, July 10, 2006


What a fiasco that was. The greatest sports event on the planet? There’s no doubt of its popularity. There were at least eight TV stations here in Bangkok broadcasting it simultaneously. The problem here was the game started at 1 AM Bangkok time. I woke up at half time and watched the second half.

I know very little about soccer and seldom watch it but here is my take. I was surprised at how fast some portions of the game were played. I could sense the intensity. Attacks were developed quickly and repulsed just as fast.

As an aside, they need to have more than one referee in soccer. That poor guy had to run farther than the players. The need for the referee to be such an athlete means that older, more experienced men, men who might have better judgment, are excluded from doing it. I suggest they have two referees like the NBA or even three. Probably three would be ideal. They have linesmen on each sideline, but that’s not the same.

Speaking of sidelines, I was amused how casually they are treated. Evidently the actual line is just a suggestion. “Play should not be extended much beyond here,” is what the sign should read. I saw the ball and players cross the line during the game but the play went right on.

Back to the game. It was already 1-1 when I started watching at the beginning of the second half. All the scoring was over. But to my inexperienced eyes, the French dominated the game. The Italians led in ball possession about 55% to 45% but that was because they brought the ball up so slowly. They seemed reluctant to attack. The French, on the other hand, attacked as soon as they had possession. Nevertheless, the game ended in a 1-1 tie after two hours of play. What a surprise.

So the final for the world soccer (football) championship was left to penalty kicks. The ball is placed 12 yards in front of the goal. Each side has five tries to get it past the goaltender. It looked to me that each kick had a better than 90% chance of scoring. The goalie takes a guess and dives to one side or the other, but there are some areas of the goal that he gives up entirely because he always dives low.

Of course this is a silly way to decide the winner of a game, let alone the championship of the world. I wrote about this a year an a half ago *here* (scroll down) in my article Solving Soccer. Here is an excerpt:

The real problem with soccer is that attacks on goal rarely result in a goal. One of the reasons for this is the defenders, when the attack becomes intense, can kick the ball over their own back line with no penalty except giving up a corner kick. So a superior team can spend all their time in front of the opponent’s goal and come away with nothing more than a tie.

There's a simple solution. It will eliminate scoreless ties and virtually all ties. Raise the points for a goal to ten and give one point every time an opponent is last to touch a ball that goes over its own back line. The corner kick will still be rewarded.

With those rules a typical 1-1 tie game would wind up something like 17-15. Defensive and offensive strategies would become far more complex and the game would become far more interesting.

It’s a coincidence that my example describes the World Cup final exactly. Using those scoring rules, France would have won 17 to 15. And France deserved to win.

But the fiasco continued. Near the end of the match, a French player head-butted an opponent without physical provocation. This was the most violent act I can recall seeing in sports. That it came in the world championship game magnified the awful deed. I am thinking the player will be banned for life, stripped of all previous awards, and live the rest of his life in disgrace.

Wrong! The player, Zinedine Zidane, won the Adidas Golden Ball voted for by journalists as the best player in the tournament.

Evidently the soccer reporters have become so inured to carnage they can ignore criminal violence. No wonder they have so much trouble with fans.


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