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All's Well When They Play Well

This article is more than 14 years old.

It's silly to draw from the result of a game the illusion of justice served, but with two shots that hit the post in the first overtime, Italy seemed entitled to that win over Germany in the first World Cup semi-final match, didn't they?

It's foolish to dream that one game could change the minds of the millions of U.S. sports fans who allegedly don't care for soccer because the game doesn't offer enough scoring. But if some of those fans did take time off from the rockets' red glare and the picnics and parades to watch on our nation's birthday that game between Germany and Italy that stood at nil-nil through nearly two overtimes, didn't they come away from it with a new appreciation for a contest played brilliantly, never mind the score? And with a new appreciation, as well, for the suddenly billowing net that came with the exercise of exquisite patience, a pass that seemed not only blind but impossibly gentle in a game of hard knocks, and the quick thump of a shot, erasing the unjust possibility that the afternoon's adventure would be decided by the spectacle of penalty kicks?

It's tempting to attribute even more to that match, such as the lesson that in the context of the World Cup, at least, and perhaps beyond, it is fine to begin brilliantly, as Argentina did, for example, scoring six goals in a first round match, but it's better to build to a grand performance when it matters most, as Italy most certainly did.

I have never rooted for the Italian team, because so many of the players have so often seemed so fond of falling to the ground without provocation. The Italian players never had a monopoly on "flopping" or "diving," but they seemed to take to it with more relish than players elsewhere. Not against the Germans on Tuesday, though. Not even when everybody on the field was so exhausted that players from both sides might have applauded a dive for the opportunity it would have given them to rest. The game itself seemed to demand more than theatrics, something more substantial, and the players seemed to acknowledge the demand.

Our games don't "demand", of course. They don't teach lessons about justice, either, or banish stubborn, parochial prejudice for the lasting recognition of a previously unappreciated beauty. But what fun when a game is so fulfilling, so good at being from beginning to end what it is supposed to be, that we can imagine for it such achievements.

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