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Zidane shines but Ronaldinho, Rooney, fail

This was a World Cup full of surprises and shocks that did little to improve the game's battered image. Although it had its highs, the lows won easily.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2006 19:46 IST

Zinedine Zidane rediscovered his game in Germany, while Ronaldinho left his in Barcelona. Fans behaved on the streets, yet referees couldn't cope with on the field cheat.

This was a World Cup full of surprises and disappointments that did little to improve the game's battered image. Although it had its highs, the lows won easily.

Fans were full of hopes when the World Cup kicked off June 9.

Defending champion Brazil would captivate them with 'samba soccer'; the United States and the African and Asian nations would continue to emerge; and England would prove itself a genuine title contender after 40 years without a sniff of the trophy.

Instead, the Europeans turned the World Cup into a private party. Italy and France made the final, with host Germany and Portugal also in the last four.

Whoever wins the title, reaching the final is a major achievement for the entire Italian team and for France midfielder Zidane.

The Italians have been distracted by a match-fixing scandal that threatens to end with the demotion of top teams Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio.

More than half of the Italian squad plays for those clubs, but the players have managed to concentrate on winning games.

Their semifinal performance against host Germany, a team that improved each game, was the best of the tournament. Both teams played high-quality soccer and the Germans were expecting their second penalty shootout in a row when Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero scored goals in the last two minutes of extra time.

All season, Zidane had looked a shadow of the man who was the world's best player five years ago. At 34 and with retirement only one game away, he shrugged off his weary Real Madrid form and produced the best World Cup moments on the ball with his trademark touches and sublime passes.

By contrast, Ronaldinho was the World Cup's biggest flop. With the FC Barcelona forward struggling to maintain the form that helped his club win the Champions League, talented Brazil rarely got out of second gear.

Although Ronaldo became the World Cup's leading all-time scorer with 15 goals, the Brazilians failed to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1990.

After the first few days, people were talking about the high-scoring Czech Republic, Spain and Argentina. It didn't last long.

Although Germany's shootout triumph over Argentina swelled the host nation's confidence, it was sad to see the South Americans go home early.

The Argentines overwhelmed Serbia-Montenegro 6-0, and coach Jose Pekerman underlined the depth of talent in his squad by sending on substitutes Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi, who both scored in the lopsided group match.

But Pekerman lost it in more ways than one against the Germans. He took off playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme and, having made all three changes because of an injury to the goalkeeper, wasn't able to use Messi.

The youngster sat on the bench, watching his teammates lose. Newcomer Ghana was the only one of Africa's five teams to make it to the last 16, then was outplayed 3-0 by Brazil. None of the four Asian teams advanced past the opening stage.

But Australia was one of the big success stories of the World Cup with its Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, maintaining his personal success story in the competition.

Having led both the Netherlands and South Korea to World Cup semifinals, he guided the Socceroos through a tough group. Their run ended in the second round with Italy's contested penalty kick in the third minute of injury time.

Hiddink's next job is with the Russian national team so look out for them at the 2008 European Championship and, if he stays longer, the 2010 World Cup.

By contrast, United States coach Bruce Arena left Germany bitterly complaining about referees instead of realizing his team's shortcomings.

Wayne Rooney arrived with his broken right foot all but mended and a big reputation. Failing to score, he felt his frustration getting stronger by the game and left the World Cup in disgrace after a red card for trampling on Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho's groin. England lost on penalties for the fifth time in a major championship.

Sven-Goran Eriksson's attempt to turn the nation's most talented team in three decades into a World Cup contender was feeble. He is gone, along with the millions he got paid over 5 1/2 years.

Although the departure of 70,000 English fans meant German bar owners didn't get any richer through the semifinals, it meant an end to the fans' nauseating and limited repertoire of songs. Fears that blood would flow down the streets of Germany never materialized.

Despite the arrival of thousands of fans, many fueled by alcohol, the police got their tactics just right and reported no serious problems as the fans enjoyed, rather than threatened, the World Cup. If only the referees could report the same.

The 23 officials couldn't keep up with the cheating. Apart from the tripping, shirt-tugging and elbowing, players dived to get a penalty or an opponent sent off.