Tuesday, June 27, 2006

(Dis)graceful Henry

I just wrote a long intro to this piece and decided it was too wordy and too preachy to keep around. I'll cut to the chase: Puyol bumped Henry in the chest and Henry grabbed his face in apparent agony, winning the free kick that resulted in Viera's go-ahead goal and set France towards a 3-1 victory over Spain.

To be fair, Spain did not exactly deserve to win. They were fortunate to get a penalty which gave them the lead, and, against stiffer competition, the team seemed to buckle as it always does. When they went down a goal with 7 minutes remaining, surely the deja vu alarms went off. Another talented Spanish team, another premature exit.

But to talk only of Spain's demise would excuse and overlook what was far more disheartening. Watching Henry fake a foul -- specifically the type which has seen players ejected from this tournament already -- and feign injury was truly sad. Some of you may recall at the onset of FIFA and Nike's anti-racism campaign (spearheaded in part by Henry), the ill-tempered Roy Keane said what was really needed was a campaign against diving.

Keane should be taken with a grain of salt, but FIFA's maneuvers to punish diving have failed to address the real problem: those that embellish actual contact by rolling around on the ground in faux-agony. The English -- who, according to them, never dive -- tend to address their complaints towards teams of Latin backgrounds -- Brazilians, Paraguayans, Portugeuse, etc. It may then come as quite a shock that England's favorite foreign footballing son is as big a diver as any.

As for the game, it was pretty standard but engrossing stuff. Lots of room in midfield in the first half but the second much tighter. France's equalizer came once again from a high defensive line -- when are teams going to realize that in this day and age of the "passive offsides" rule, you simply can't play such a defensive system? -- as Ribery got behind and rounded Casillas far too easily. No particularly clear cut chances came until Henry's dive led to a Zidane free kick 45 yards from goal. His bending cross skimmed the head of Xabi Alonso before finding Viera on the backpost. He directed his header down and Casillas looked to have it covered but Sergio Ramos tried to intervene and deflected the ball into the net. Spain pushed forward then, with Joaquin coasting by defenders on the flank only to find that Spain didn't have much of an aerial presence in the box.

If I was angry at the impending result, it felt somewhat better to see Zidane receive Wiltord's through ball, cut back around Puyol, and slide the ball past Casillas (who, I might add, looked pretty poor on two of the three goals). A fine goal for a great player. And with Viera finally firing on all cylinders for his national team, France might just have a little more left in the tank against Brazil. We'll see on Saturday.

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