World Cup 2006 began with an onslaught of yellow and red cards being issued and ended with the world seeing red as French striker Zinedine Zidane was sent off in extra time for his vicious head butt on Italian defender Marco Materazzi. It was prompted by what Zidane called, “an attack on his mother and sister” and it helped put the nail in the coffin on France’s chances of winning the final match. The Italians were eventually crowned champions as they hoisted the World Cup trophy above their heads.
This World Cup was dominated by discussion about the record amount of cards being issued. By the end of the tournament 345 yellow and 28 red cards had been issued, as opposed to the 266 yellow and 17 red cards issued during the 2002 World Cup. Players were playing aggressive but clean soccer. Officials appeared to be over-calling games in an attempt to be perfect, and the consistency of calls also differed from game to game. One game a referee would give a card for tugging on an opponent’s shirt and then the next they wouldn’t even call the foul.
On a more positive note, Brazil’s Ronaldo showed his greatness when he surpassed German great Gerd Muller’s goal scoring record, but this feat was dwarfed by Zidane’s attack on Materazzi. Even though Zidane’s actions put a black spot on his career of stunning achievements, he was still able to win the Golden Ball, which is awarded to the best player of the tournament. He showed that even at age 34, he could dazzle opposing defenses. Zidane was awarded a penalty kick during the World Cup Final and as he approached the ball it looked like he was going to kick it to the lower left corner of the net, but in a surprise to everyone he chipped the ball over diving Italian Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. It bounced off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net. Coincidentally, the Yashin award, given to the best goalie, was awarded to Buffon. He only let in two goals during matches (not counting penalty shootouts). On the offensive side of awards, the Golden Boot was awarded to German striker Miroslav Klose for being the top goal scorer.
A heartwarming story from the tournament was that the Ivory Coast team united their country under a cease fire, so the nation could watch its first world cup. They managed to pull off their first World Cup win against Serbia and Montenegro, but finished third in their group. The tiny islands of Trinidad and Tobago also qualified for the first time ever and upset the Swedes by tying them during group play.
By far the biggest shock and upset of the tournament was when first time qualifier Ghana beat the Czech Republic during group play. The Ghanaian team managed to pull out a second place finish in their group and they moved on to the round of sixteen where they lost to Brazil.
One month after the World Cup has ended, the U.S. is questioning why they exited the tournament so quickly. U.S. Team members Landon Donovan, Damarcus Beasley, and Claudio Reyna all showed a lackluster performance in this cup, and Coach Bruce Arena’s contract will not be extended. Maybe with a new coach the U.S. squad can find some of that fire and spark they were missing during the Cup. Veterans Brian McBride and Claudio Reyna have left openings for younger players by announcing their retirement from international soccer. Coach Jurgen Klinsmen has stepped down as head coach of the German national team and it is widely speculated that he will take over as the coach of the U.S squad. They now face the road of rebuilding with the ultimate hope of making it to South Africa 2010.