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Thursday, July 06, 2006

WC2006: France face Italy as Portugal bow out

This semi-final did not equal the one 24hrs prior in Dortmund. There were decent attacks from both sides, but neither came close enough to score, which made for an anti-climax in multiple proportion. Notably Christiano Ronaldo was booed from the first touch of the ball, which didn't deter him from playing well, just not well enough for the most outstanding player on the pitch. Diving occurred once again, maybe unsurprising to some, with Florent Malouda dropping near the left of the Portuguese box. Ronaldo, Pedro Pauleta, Helder Postiga dived and add to that a melee from Portugal over Luis Miguel's fall to the ground that occurred with no France contact. Ronaldo made for the most audacious dive, jogging nearer the penalty spot to approach a cross and then launching in the air as if he faced a swimming pool.

Luis Figo almost made Eric Abidal pay for low defensive approach as the Inter man made his way on occasion down the France left for crosses. But the only figure in the box that had any chance of meeting such balls was Pedro Pauleta, who I felt would have another poor World Cup, scoring wise. Marshalled away from threats via William Gallas and Lillian Thuram, Pauleta needed support and hardly received it. Therefore the French were troubled but not brought to task as Portugal made little of testing Fabian Barthez, albeit Maniche Ribiero came close with a shot that skimmed over the bar.

One goal separated these two, courtesy of another of the moment, in England at least, Ricardo Carvalho. Zinedine Zidane played a ball to Thierry Henry, the Arsenal man turning into the box and away from Carvalho. Carvalho came with a right foot to challenge and missed, then followed up with his left that made contact with Henry's right foot. The mere contact constitutes to a foul and has done mainly outfield, so when this occurred the Uruguayan referee, Jorge Larrionda, gave the decision to France. On another day, perhaps in the Premiership, the contact may have been waived away with Henry making more of the contact. But in the World Cup semi-final, it counted. So did the stand-off between Zidane and Portugal's impressive stopper Alexandre Ricardo, the veteran master midfielder and the astute penalty-stopper.

Recall that the Portuguese keeper mentioned he saw in the eyes of the English players which post they were looking at when they took their spot-kicks four days ago, which helped him guess which way to go. He did the same last night to Zidane and almost got a hand to the ball. He may have contributed to England's exit but there seems an acute sense of direction from the Sporting Lisbon keeper that I have only seen followed somewhat by Jens Lehmann and Pepe Reina.

Try as they did, the Portuguese could not convert on goal, even when they were gifted a good chance when a high ball was headed down by Gallas to the waiting Fernando Meira, who blasted it wide instead of keeping some composure. Figo began to tire, Deco wasn't his influential best, Pauleta came off for Simao Sabrosa to no effect. When the final whistle blew, it seemed to a number of Portuguese players they had accepted defeat from the final 10mins. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari remonstrated at the referee. Afterwards, Carvalho stated France were no better than Portugal and that the referee gave France their victory, while Ronaldo stated the crowd were against him because he was a dangerous player and the referee would not give decisions because Portugal was a small country.

Ronaldo: "I was pleased about being booed. I am a dangerous player, and maybe the French fans were upset to see a dangerous player."

"We played well and did our best but the referee didn't help us. Everyone who saw the match could see the referee wasn't fair. He should have shown yellow cards but he did not because Portugal is a small country."

Portugal were reasonable, they did not play well and Ronaldo was more dangerous against England than last night. He made some runs along the flanks but nothing that superseded that against England. Those who booed him were apparently a combination of English and French fans added to the boos, and potentially other foreign nationals who had tickets for the semi-final in anticipation of their team getting through. And calling for the referee to issue yellow cards is hypocritical, considering that had the referee decided to pull out for bookings often, Ronaldo, Pauleta and Postiga would have to have been on the referee's list without doubt. It was also questionable for Portugal to have not changed their 4-5-1 system as it was not making appropriate channels towards goal. However, any system would fail if certain players do not produce the kind of football such a system is expected to enhance. It is at this point I interject a minor digression of Sepp Blatter's criticism of the English lone striker system which suspiciously went no further, even towards the Portuguese camp, prior to the semi-final.

Nonetheless, it is France who face Italy in the 2006 World Cup final, Berlin, 7pm kick-off. While they failed to produce inspirational football in the group stages, the French have not looked back since. Henry appears to be more flexible in his own lone role (another user of the Blatter criticised system not mentioned), Zidane wasn't as impressive last night as he was against Spain and Brazil but he enters into his last World Cup final. Patrick Vieira is anchoring well with Claude Makelele in central midfield, Franck Ribery still has to sparkle as he did for the U-21s', but best of all is their defence. William Sagnol has been very good on the right, Gallas and Thuram are quick, stern, no-nonsense defenders, while Barthez has come into action on occasion and done so with confidence, albeit a lack of handling for a Ronaldo freekick.

Possibly France's weakness is Abidal, has shown up well in attack but in defence has become quite susceptible. If Italy are to exploit the tight French resistance, it is through cunning quick football and more acute efforts on target. For France are quite capable of snatching a lead and sitting back on it, which commands the opposition to come at them and invite the quick counter-attack.



Anonymous Nturtle said...

Redsman....are you getting RSI (repetitive strain injury) yet?!?! Great long piece that!

I like your conclusion the best...Abidal has clearly shown us he is out of his depth on several occasions. If only Clichy were not injured...might have given him a run for his money.

France though...STILL need to harness the attacking force that is Henry...he is so isolated..and has to just pick up those long balls that seen easy to defend against. Italy will no doubt be clued up to the best bet is some good PASSING football, like they played against Brazil. Yes....Zidane is a catalyst...but surely Viera and Makelele can also provide some through balls or direct balls to Henry as well. The french wingers also need to figure out how to play with Henry...picking up some of his runs etc. Henry just DOESN'T bother I think...since he know he won't get any good passes...otherwise he would have got to Malouda or was that Abidal's cross from the left that went across the goal face in the first half.

I'm pessimistic...and think that Lippi has been very good tactically in the last few games...and the Italians have also been ATTACKING...the key to WINNING! Attack and the best defence of the competition...they must be some kind of favorites...

7/07/2006 2:37 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

Thaks, Nturtle, and to think after the WC the EPL begins shortly!!

When you look at the 3 areas of Defence, Midfield, Attack and compare; Thuram and Gallas are quick, strong, determined, Cannavaro is small yet nimble, Materazzi, tall, strong and has adapted to reading the pass. Grosso and Zambrotta are keen attackers, so are Abidal and Sagnol, but Italy face a lone Henry and the support of Ribery, Malouda and Vieira coming through. France face possibly a bigger threat in a lone Toni or Toni and Gilardino, though I sense Toni will start alone with Totti behind him.

In the middle, Vieira, Zidane, Makelele, Gattuso, Pirlo, and I wonder if Camoranesi misses the final through suspension. If not then he is there too. If he does, Perotta comes in. Quick Italian pass and move against the tall skilful vision and strength of Vieira and Zidane, and once pass them, Makelele. As predictions go, I should keep quiet, but had I done that from day one I wouldn't be a football fan. Both sides want this trophy, you would expect nothing else, and probably will go defensively 4-5-1/4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1.

I also expect Del Piero to start, I've called for him to start from the group stages when Italy drew with USA. Del Piero and Inzaghi are consigned due to age but they do not lack that scoring instinct. While the Italians have Gilardino, Toni, Del Piero and Totti, France have Henry, Wiltord, Trezeguet and Govou. Barthez and Buffon, one is an experience, if somewhat unorthodox, keeper released from Man Utd due to a number of errors; the other said to be the best, certainly the most expensive in the world, with good displays.

Could this final go down to the amount of efforts either keeper saves? If so, consider it will go to penalties. The Italians may make the most efforts on goal and not score, while France could be more laid-back with sporadic attacks on Italy's goal, if they are capable of keeping Italy at a distance from their goal. What could alternatively be key to a good game is an early goal, even two, 0-1 after ten minutes, possibly 1-1 at half time.

It is a tight one to call. There is the potential that henry could be too quick for the Italian defence, whereas the Italians will have to play a fast passing game to strategically breach the French goal. I will go for an Italy win, 2-1.


7/07/2006 12:07 pm

Blogger T said...

I've disqualified myself from predictions after my Italian tip at the start of the comp!

Personally I'm very happy that France have made the final. Zizou's 'rolling back the years' mastery against Brazil has been the highlight of the tournament for me; I'm a big fan of the Thuram/Gallas CB partnership; plus I'm always right behind Henry and Vieira to do well on the international stage.

Redsman, I think I differ from you with regard to Ribery because I believe he has been a revelation. His drive set up the crucial opening goal against Togo, and again in scoring the even more crucial equaliser against Spain. Every time he gets the ball his first motivation appears to be to drive forward as quickly as possible- and I really admire this attacking attitude. This is a player that I would not mind at all Arsene Wenger bringing to Highbury!

I tend to agree with both of you that Abdial has looked on few occasions to be a potential liability- he looked a lot better in the friendly matches prior to the tournament. I also think that Malouda's productivity has not been too hot.

I read elsewhere that the French have named their side the 'Ancient Combatants'. Its an evocative name that I think sums up perfectly this French side during this World Cup. Although I have my doubts whether they can sustain their collective rejuvenation, it will be fascinating to see if Zizou and Co have one last great effort in them come Sunday evening...

7/07/2006 8:13 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Point taken, T. With Ribery, I felt he would be another name put forward for hot transfer rumours because of the u-21s' and the French nation have called loudly for his inclusion in the squad, for were it not Giuly or Anelka were said to be called up. Certainly Giuly should have been included.

Since then he has shown he has good drive and determination in getting forward but it has been quiet somewhat since the Spain game. During the semis', replays showed first Makelele then Thruam twice speaking to him, encouraging him, advising him and I felt he was restricted after that, as Henry and Zidane would attack with four or five Portugal players in defence and Ribery on the other side not looking to run in or amongst the defence to create an opening for a pass.

I looked on the Spain game and was amazed Domenech actually allowed him the whole game. He has, for me, to increase his playability a couple of notches more and we would see a more lethal Ribery. Malouda tries well but often has to pass away or delivers poorly. I would look at a 4-1-3-2, Makelele behind Vieira central between Ribery and Malouda, then Wiltord or Trezeguet with Henry. Thought Henry's killer goal against Brazil was one sweet touch, a goal worthy of eliminating poor favourites, though I'm still sore over his theatrics leading up to France's second against Spain. That I still find unbelievable.


7/08/2006 9:01 am

Blogger T said...

Redsman, you have left out Zidane!

On Henry, when I saw the France/Spain match I saw the body check against Henry by Puyol and thought definite free-kick. Then, when the reply came up showing Henry going down clutching his head I was really surprised as in my memory he has never done such a thing. I think it seemed unbelievable to many because it was Henry: a player which I think it is fair to say has a good reputation for fairness on the pitch.

I thought about the incident and figured was it a retaliation against Puyol after the Barca's defender's hard tackling on Henry in the Champs League final? Yet this could in no way provide justification for Henry's uncharacteristic reaction.

I recall when France played Spain in Euro 2000 that Henry went on an electric 45 yard run before being badly hacked down from behind. His response was to get up immediately and jog forward to assume position for the free-kick. I really admired this reaction, and it is one I have since seen many times over the years. This is the Henry I have come to expect over the seasons.

Because of this I hope, expect and demand from the Arsenal captain that the Puyol incident will amount to an aberration that will not be repeated.

Also want to say that aside from this incident I have been happy with Henry's contribution in the tournament for France. He is having to play the one-man up front role which is not his favourite- yet has been effective in scoring three goals and linking up with the runners from the French midfield. Plus, the sublime timing and grace of his volleyed goal which knocked out Brazil is one my top moments of this World Cup... a pure fantastic finish.

Finally, must make a correction. In my previous comment I mentioned about Ribery being welcome at Highbury when I should have said the Emirates. Old habits dying hard and all that...!

7/08/2006 1:13 pm


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