Through this World Cup season, I've gone through a number of phases.
First was the initial interest I showed when I watched my first game and realized that soccer can be an entertaining sport after all. This, combined with the nationalistic drama made me look forward to the rest of the tournament.
Second came severe disillusionment. The more I watched, the more I saw that outcomes were frequently determined by chance events. Teams seemed to be at a skill level such that they could generally prevent scoring. The problem with this isn't boredom with low-scoring matches. Actually, they were quite tense. The problem was that the winning goal more often turned out to be fluke. Or worse, we ended up with the arbitrariness of the penalty shoot-out.
Then, of course, there's the diving. Please!
I can't stand the thought of a tournament that seems to be determined more by fate than performance, nor a league that is impotent in the face of such manipulation by the players. Most North American sports fans I know simply aren't able to tolerate such a dynamic.
Anyway, it was in this context that I sat down to watch the final on Sunday. I didn't care much for either Italy or France before the game, but that certainly changed.
Throughout the game I saw the Italian players falling to the ground and writhing dramatically at the slightest touch. At the same time, I came to see the French team as somewhat above these low theatrics. I won't claim that they were entirely pure. Yet, I felt that they generally seemed more interested in putting the ball in the net than going for a ride on a stretcher. France was the better team and the more sportsmanlike team, despite Zidane's breakdown (with which I empathize).
Hopefully FIFA will look into making some improvements, such as continuous overtime until a winning goal is scored (at least in the elimination round), more referees to cover the entire field, and serious penalties for diving.