Sunday, July 09, 2006
The world's greatest sporting event came to an end today, as Italy defeated France on penalty shots. It is an understatement to say that France has an image-problem in Israel. Thus, it was no big surprise that many Israelis were cheering for Italy. Nevertheless, the French team's hard work and especially the leadership of Zinedine Zidane had earned les bleues the grudging respect of many football fans here. All this admiration, however stinting, was erased at the end of tonight's game, when "some dark force," as the Israeli commentator put it, took over the retiring 34-year-old. After an exchange of words with Marco Materazzi, Zidane knocked the Italian player to the ground with a brutal head-butt to the chest, and then went on playing as if nothing had happened (though half a minute later he began to take off his arm band). I think it is not an exaggeration to call Zidane's head-butt and his red card in the second overtime period a tragedy - in the Shakespearean sense. It was painful to see this hero fall so low. From that point on, I could not watch the game without a deep sense of disappointment.
To be fair, even in Israel, and even after Zidane's self-destructive antics, there were a few voices that continued to support France - perhaps davka this tortured outburst of rage enamored the player to a few. One fan at the cafe where I was watching the game, on Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, kept repeating that Zidane was no frayer - the popular and infamous Israeli expression for a "sucker." One fan added the old adage that "you can take the boy out of the 'hood, but you can't take the 'hood out of the boy." But most of the cafes and bars on the street erupted in controlled applause and cheering when Italy clinched the cup.
Other local reactions: one fan, who seems to have been an immigrant from South America, kept insisting that the French team was not "French" - pointing at players like Makalele, Thierry, and, of course, Zidane. His neighbor seemed genuinely perturbed at this, and a small argument broke out. Strangely enough, the South American also repeated several times that he was "for the blacks," and that he liked them much more than the French. It was nevertheless a perverse observation. For all of France's social and ethnic tensions, the composition of its team seems much more "normal" than that of Italy or Germany, for example. I wonder what the South American thinks about Abbas Suan, the Israeli Arab who was one of the national team's star players during the World Cup qualifying stages.