France 3 Spain 1
Well, it happened. Not that there was ever any doubt that it would. But it did.
The sun rose, the sky was blue, and Spain crumbled into the abyss of false promise. Once again the World Cup will come and go and the Spaniards will be little more than a footnote of potential squandered and things that could have been.
How bad was it? Immediately after the game, Eric Wynalda compared Spain to the Chicago Cubs. Ouch. Now that's harsh. Listen, when you're being compared to the Cubs, King of Losers everywhere, you know you're in a bad, bad way.
However, as easy as it is to dismiss this outcome as simply another Spanish choke job, let's not overlook France's accomplishments. Other than a stretch here or there, they controlled the game's tempo from the opening minutes and always looked the more dangerous side, even after David Villa put Spain ahead in the 28th minute with a penalty kick following a questionable call. This may not have been the same French side that won the 1998 World Cup and EURO 2000, but it certainly wasn't the side that looked so lethargic in the opening round. Can they beat Brazil in the quarterfinals? I wouldn't bet on it, but I wouldn't doubt it, either. They defend with precision and will always be dangerous with Thierry Henry roaming up top, no matter how much he fails to live up to his Arsenal glory while in the uniform of Les Bleus.
Frank Ribery scored France's equalizer in the 41st minute and was arguably the man of the match, causing havoc down the right flank all day long. It's always refreshing to see a guy who pushes the pedal to the medal and looks to go ever forward. The dude is exciting and looks to make things happen. You have to like that.
Now, to be fair, France's second goal, scored on a Patrick Vieira header, was set up in dubious fashion after Thierry Henry earned a free kick with thespian skills straight out of Hollywood, even earning Spain's Carlos Puyol and his Def Lepard guitar tech haircut a yellow card in the process. Puyol did nothing wrong, let's be honest. Yet Henry went down like his heart suddenly exploded, and the ref bought it. Of course, following Arsenal's Champions League final loss to Barcelona, Henry criticized the refereeing and proclaimed, "Maybe next time I'll learn to dive." Well, if nothing else, I suppose you have to give Henry credit for being a man of his word. And a fantastic actor.
When the old maestro, Zinedine Zidane, scored France's third just before the end, the joke was complete. Not only was Spain sorrowfully crashing out yet again, but now the clown cars and dancing bears were unleashed. It was hysterical. I'm sorry, but it was. I mean, at least if Spain had gone out in a shootout or had been done in by questionable officiating as they were in 2002, you could respect them a little bit more. But now it was 3-1 and there was nothing left but the laughter.
If you want Spain in a nutshell, here it is: With the score tied 1-1 in the 54th minutes, Luis Aragones subbed out both Raul and David Villa. What a cowardly move. Why take out your all-time leading scorer (Raul) and your young gun up top (Villa) who had already scored three times in this World Cup? Aragones was choosing against any offense in favor of letting the game dissolve into a defensive stalemate - and he didn't even have the lead. He was playing scared, and surely, his team picked up on the vibes. Granted, I like both of the guys he brought in. Joaquin is splendid on the right flank and I was surprised he wasn't a starter, and Luis Garcia has long proven his mettle at Liverpool. But if you blatantly turn your back on your offensive capabilities and play merely not to lose, you deserve whatever you get. I thought it was a chickenshit move. Maybe that's just me.
Besides, Aragones once called Henry a "black shit," so I found some definite satisfaction in watching Henry and his numerous black teammates celebrating wildly in front of Spain. Karma's a bitch, Luis.
Sadly, no more Spanish hotties will be on view for the world. This is a damn shame.