Germany meet Italy as England and Portugal prepare
Germany v Argentina was an entertaining match, a tight one. Good header by Roberto Ayala from Juan Roman Riquelme's corner for Argentina's goal, and I sensed the Argentinians felt they had the control of the game by then with little worries. But being in that frame of mind allowed the Germans to engineer themselves towards goal, Michael Ballack crossing well for an excellent head-on by Tim Borowski for Miroslav to steal ahead of Juan Pablo Sorin and yet again score, an essential equaliser. The goal drew Germany level with 10mins of normal time to go but also it stunned their opponents. The lull from then to the end of extra time seemed inevitable, the Germans may have been confident with penalties while the Argentinians had no more power to penetrate the German defence.
Argentina coach Jose Pekerman made two errors in bringing off JRiquelme and Hernan Crespo, these two are main players whose game is for 90mins. Provided injury or serious ill-play is at hand, then indeed replace them, otherwise leave them on. Without Riquleme the midfield control was effectively surrendered, without Crespo moving his marker with him upfront, there was little way made by Carlos Tevez' movements. Tevez was bustling but towards the end became more predictable and therefore easier to monitor. Pekerman should have replaced Mascherano with Esteban Cambiasso, pushing Cambiasso defensively, Riquelme behind Tevez and Crespo. If need be, it should have been Tevez rather than Crespo coming off for Julio Cruz. The two substitutions were fundamental with Roberto Abbondanzieri coming off injured, Leo Franco did not seem confident to me, perhaps unsurprisingly.
As for the penalties, here it was evident how much the equaliser stunned the Argentinians. Oliver Neuville scored first, Cruz next, then Ballack. Ayala weakly passed more than shot at Jens Lehmann, while Lukas Podolski scored. If Maxi Rodriguez missed, game over, but he didn't and hope still remained for Argentina. Borowski scored his, meaning Cambiasso had to score or else. He didn't. Germany went through, Lehmann went the right way on all spot kicks while Franco fared half as good. Germany executed their kicks in excellent style while the Argentinians produced desperate efforts, as I said they looked to have no more resolve in them. If the equaliser stunned the Argentinians, then the penalties potentially provoked anguish into anger.
Afterwards, a melee of officials, team members and bench members came together in some furore, Gabriel Heinze clearly incandescent with fury in the direction of Oliver Bierhoff, an official trying to restrain the Manchester United defender. Clearly, as Bastian Schweinsteiger, wearing an orange vest over his Germany sweatshirt, turned to walk away, he was struck on his back by a charging and lunging Rodriguez, someone who, for me, scored a wonderful goal against Mexico but otherwise has stained his performance in the tournament as a whole with a number of drops and dives, one of which he was excellently booked for by the referee in this game, Lubos Michel. Mick McCarthy, co-commentating for BBC1, spotted German defender Per Mertesacker assaulting an Argentinian player. One report suggests Borowski told the Argentinan players to be quiet after he had scored and when Cambiasso missed, Fabricio Colocchini approached Neuville.
The Argentinian side have history for this behaviour after a World Cup match, this is another episode for FIFA to mull over with their 'Muller-Thurgau' and 'Big Baby Swiss'.
While I had Germany to win, because for some reason I felt being the home team would give that magic advantage, I also had Italy to win. Maybe not a surprising choice but the Ukraine still had enough talent to cause a stir while Italy had yet to show their renowned potential. Marcello Lippi gambled on dropping Alberto Gilardino, using Luca Toni up with Francesco Totti as his strike force. It was Gianluca Zambrotta who went on the run, receiving a sweet back-heel off Totti and then a left foot strike that Alexander Shovkovsky got down to but should have palmed away, the ball going in off his gloves.
Toni notched his first goal in the World Cup when Totti again got involved and crossed for Toni to head in. Fabio Cannavaro was in an offside position and aimed to head the ball but missed, and that is interfering with play, offside should have been given. Toni then finished with a brace as Zambrotta ran down the left and crossed low to evade Shovkovsky and find Toni, who had stolen ahead of his marker for a simple tap-in. Germany v Italy, July 4th, Dortmund, 8pm, should be a very good contest.
Last word for tomorrow, because no doubt from sunrise we will hear much about it. I understand Christiano Ronaldo is 60-40 to start, while Frank Lampard and Gary Neville are A-OK. With that, Sven-Goran Eriksson will deploy 4-5-1 while I prefer 4-4-2. The usual players will play, save Owen Hargreaves is said to hold instead of Michael Carrick. Hargreaves is more defensive than Carrick, though I would have Carrick holding. If it were 4-4-2, no doubt Peter Crouch would start with Rooney.
As for Portugal, I suspect Luiz Felipe Scolari will go 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1. If the former, expect the usual five of Ricardo, Luis Miguel, Fernando Meira, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente at the back, then Armando Petiti holding and a four of Ronaldo, Maniche Riberio, Luis Figo and Simao Sabrosa behind Pedro Pauleta. If the latter, which is what I feel Scolari will play with, the same back five, Petit and Cardoso Tiago both holding, a three of Ronaldo, Maniche and Figo behind Pauleta. If Ronaldo is unfit in the 4-1-4-1, Figo will go on the flank with Tiago coming in.
Francisco Costinha and Anderson Deco being suspended does not give us an edge, they can be replaced well.
COME ON ENGLAND!!!