Far be it for me to disagree with Ian Darke’s assessment of David Silva’s zippy flick to Cesc Fabregas as the best pass of the tournament. But I’d argue the fantastic ball to Di Natale from Andrea Pirlo was much more impressive—and here’s why, with some personal history to back it up.
Now, I love a great goal; one of my four great regrets in life is that I was not a Southampton season ticket holder between 1986 and 2002 so I could have witnessed Matt Le Tissier. But most goals have an instantaneousness that makes them physically admirable but intellectually vacant. There are exceptions: bicycle kicks, for example, which clearly involve a moment of internal discussion; penalties. And great scorers clearly are thinking about where the keeper happens to be and where he might get. But I doubt that they do so with the sort of deliberate calculation that makes for a great through pass. Silva’s delivery was reflex—brilliant reflex—but Pirlo’s through ball to Di Natale was a masterwork of expectancy. A through pass is gorgeous not just because there’s so much anticipation—of when to break past the last line of defense, of where to needle the ball through the split in the line, the weight of the pass, all of which ideally results in a great, carpet-unrolling of the ball to the spot where nobody was, and now in full-stride, is. A through pass is thrilling because it has been thought through, not just gone through. It is a moment of tactical consideration, not just of recognition but cognition, and that makes not just such a pass but a triumph of geometrical judgment, the true synthesis of mind and body. Of course, there’s more to it than that, there’s the finish, and in Fernando Torres we saw how too much thinking is the road to ruin.
My high school soccer team was many things—that is, as many synonyms for “bad” that you can find in the dictionary. Our main defensive tactic in high school was the offside trap, and we were okay at it. I remember watching the USA play in the 1994 World Cup with a very similar approach. At the time, the feeling was that when you don’t have anyone who can score, you should think Italian. But the Italians don’t quite think that way anymore—farewell the 1-3-3-3, hello the 3-5-2. Recognition, cognition, decision, and roll out that thirty-yard carpet. This is one point for Italy, but one mighty leap for through kind.