I am transfixed by the excitement of the 2014 World Cup (this tournament has had a lot to get excited about so far), but I am still haunted by the memories of my frustration with the tournament eight years ago.
During the final match of the 2006 World Cup between France and Italy, something extraordinary happened. Zinedine Zidane head-butted an Italian defender in the 110th minute of the game, received a red card, was ejected from the game, and quite possibly cost France the Cup. Even more extraordinary is the amount of thought I’ve given this event over the years.
How could a world-class athlete throw away victory in the world’s greatest competition? The French team fought hard for over a month. Victory was a possibility that might only be ten minutes away. Why couldn’t Zidane persevere for ten more minutes? He had already invested a month—he had invested a career.
Zidane planned to retire after the tournament. Could the satisfaction gained by head-butting a nasty Italian really outweigh exiting the international stage so ignobly?
The head-butt devastated me.
I bought into the sports casters’ hype surrounding Zidane because I wanted a personal connection with the tournament. I needed someone to cheer for.
Naturally, I had hoped that Team USA would perform well in the tournament. They began the World Cup ranked fifth in the world, but they failed to win a single game in the group stage. Hopes dashed.
After Team USA’s exit from the tournament, I pinned my hopes on England. England seemed like a good option since I speak English and so do they. I wanted to see David Beckham lift the trophy. I liked David Beckham because he had cool hair and a Spice Girl for a wife. England lost on penalties to Portugal in the quarterfinals and I was once again without a team.
I then opted for Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, the Brazilian Wonder Twins. At least Brazil is in my hemisphere. My allegiance to Brazil only lasted a matter of hours because they got knocked out in the very next match.
After the quarterfinals, I was faced with my worst nightmare. Four European teams. In 2006 I had a prejudice against all European teams (except England whom I exempted based on linguistic bias and the fact that they’re on an island). I wanted someone from outside Europe to cheer for, but there was no one left.
At that point I became a Zidane fan because I fell in love with the story being spun by the sports casters. Zidane—one of the world’s greatest. Zidane—old warrior battling for another Cup. Zidane—retiring after the tournament. Zidane—every match could be his last.
Who could resist? I wanted to see him go out a winner.
I wasn’t really cheering for France. Zidane was actually from Algeria, so I could pretend like it wasn’t an all-Europe semifinal. Who needed a team? I was cheering for one man. The media had given me the personal connection I needed.
Thus my horror in the 110th minute of the game. Zidane betrayed me. I had trusted him, or rather I trusted the media’s image of him. I sat on my sofa asking, “How could Zidane do this to me?”
Never mind the Italian rolling on the pitch. Never mind the other players on the French team. This was about me. Zidane cheated me. I had invested emotion in the outcome of this match, and I had not gotten the proper dividend. One expects either elation or disappointment, not shock and bewilderment.
I’m sure there’s a moral to this story, but eight years later, I still haven’t figured it out. Perhaps I should not let the media influence my perceptions. Perhaps I should not expect shoes of gold to entail a heart of gold. Perhaps I should never set aside my natural prejudice against the French. Or perhaps Americans just weren’t meant to be Soccer fans.
Don’t worry. I’m guarding my heart this time around.