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Published: Wednesday, 7/12/2006

The real 'world series'

SUNDAY'S final of the World Cup between France and Italy wrapped up a month-long competition open to soccer teams from every country of the world - thus soccer remains the only sport that offers a true "world series" championship.

Italy won in a penalty kick shoot-out, made necessary by a 1-1 tie after 120 minutes of play, including overtime. Perhaps the most dramatic moment of the match was also its most unfortunate - when France's captain, Zinedine Zidane, a revered 34-year-old veteran midfielder, lost his temper, head-butted an Italian player in the chest, and was kicked out of the game.

If there was any logic to Zidane's action it has yet to be revealed. What was interesting was that in spite of his colossal act of bad sportsmanship, journalists covering the event still awarded Zu Zu, as he is called, the son of Algerian immigrants, the Golden Ball for outstanding play during the tournament. But when his country needed him most - for the shootout - he had been banished to the sidelines.

Germany distinguished itself as the host of the competition, organizing matches in stadiums across the country. The Germans kept the fans' behavior in check, though some of them are from countries whose supporters have gained a reputation for loutish behavior.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was in evidence in television coverage of the match. The German team, of whom not much was expected, did well with the support of the home crowds.

The American team never made it out of the first round of matches, reflecting the lower level of interest in soccer in the United States than in other countries. The pace of soccer, plus the low scoring, accounts in part for the game's inability to compete with football, baseball, and basketball for the attention of American fans.

But world soccer and the World Cup are hugely popular without a high level of American interest, which won't come without greater success by the United States in soccer's "world series."

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