WC2006: Italy 'impressionante', Germany 'verzagt'
In 1970, Italy were runners-up in the World Cup tournament, beaten 4-1- by Brazil. In 1982, Italy won the World Cup, beating then West Germany 3-1. In 1994, Italy were runners-up in the World Cup as they lose out to Brazil 3-2 on penalties after a 0-0 finish. Italy are now into the finals of the World Cup 2006, the significance is the occurrence of these finishes in the World Cup for Italy every 12 years since 1970. Meaning Italy are potentially due a World Cup win, and after the display they gave last night, I certainly would not begrudge them of it.
Italy have faced Ghana, USA, Czech Republic, Australia, Ukraine and while all of those sides showed good football play to warrant being in the tournament, Italy's most worthy opponents were the USA and Australia. The Germans had faced Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador, Sweden, Argentina and had neither lost nor drawn those matches, albeit a late, late winner against the Poles, all of which made for a contrasting performance to that estimated in the German media, and the fans. The Germans had not looked back and had an edge to their game that oozed good link-play and execution. I expected the Italians to struggle into the quarter-finals and then go out. They were pushed into a 2-0 win against Ghana, drew with the Americans, had the advantage of one man with the Czech, were fortuitous against the Australians and romped against an eventual lacklustre Ukraine side. The best bet was on the Germans last night.
The gist of the game last night, first of all, was the referee Benito Archundia Tellez from Mexico, a non-European to diminish any alleged ties or links of favouritism. Yes, England had a non-European in their quarter-finals but he was Argentinian. No question of impartiality there but at the back remains my very own niggling feeling about that. Mr Tellez has shown previously a reluctance to pull back play for every blade of grass that made contact with a player for a freekick and a booking. He made three bookings last night of Tim Borowski on Francesco Totti, Christoph Metzelder on Gennaro Gattuso and Mauro Camoranesi on Lukas Podolski, and otherwise told certain players to get up as they appealed on the ground for a freekick.
Next was the football. In the first half Italy were the better, Andrea Pirlo and Gattuso linked with Totti mainly to weave touch-and-go passes, one-twos' and to help when not in possession, and the German midfield had little answer to it other than watch and hope for a mis-pass. On occasion a chipped ball would occur forward for Fabio Grosso or Luca Toni that was overhit mainly or rendered the intended player offside. This was the only downfall of the entire match. Germany came the better side in the second half, Miroslav Klose was tightly marked but he still found the ball when he dropped off to collect and pass to join up with the attack, something Wayne Rooney relishes in but was not given the chance to do. There were no rash, severely ill-timed tackles, no face-offs, a little disgruntlement between Michael Ballack and Gattuso, Metzelder and Camoranesi but very minor, hardly handbags.
Then there were exceptional individual performances. Chances were created from both sides, and such attacks led to the excellent performance of Fabio Cannavaro, second to which was either the partnership of Pirlo and Gattuso, two thoughtful, energetic players who literally ran all over the pitch, and the performance of Jens Lehmann. The Arsenal keeper came for crosses and corners with great confidence and even picked up on threatening passes that eluded the defence, clearly showing why he was chosen Germany's no.1. Jurgen Klinsmann made no mistake there. But the Man Of The Match was Cannavaro, who had hardly put a foot wrong throughout, led like a true captain, snuffed out any threat that came his way, and was influential in the killing second goal. If Pirlo and Gattuso covered all over the pitch, in defence Cannavaro was never far behind.
Marco Materazzi has covered well for Alessandro Nesta and he was second-in-command in defence, numerous times he made a header or interception to clear danger. Where Lehmann covered to keep Germany settled at the back, Gianluca Buffon was called upon at times to thwart Germany's chances, Podolski shot at him from the left with little to deny him and also from close range on the turn, both of which Buffon dealt with with cool hands. Klose was through on goal until the Italian keeper came out and smothered the ball away.
Finally, the goals, both of which came in extra time, second half. The first was the type that would separate two fighting equal sides. It called for tiredness in the German defence and a change in approach from the man Pirlo. Picking up the ball central of the German goal outside of the box, Pirlo dinked to shot then ran to his right, dragging four German players to him. Then he passed into the box to Grosso, who had another four German players in front of him but who had made for an inadvertent passage for Grosso to curl a shot through. Sub Daniel Odonkor jogged away from far post just before the shot was made and had he remained he could have blocked the shot. But he hadn't, Grosso's shot curled and as Lehmann dived the curling effort bent round him and into the net.
That was timed at 119mins, and with moments to spare the Germans went forward for an equaliser and were caught out. A high ball was headed back by Cannavaro and then the Italy captain ran out to nick the ball off Ballack before the Chelsea man knew about it, Cannavaro passing to Totti, Totti finding sub Alberto Gilardino, who had a shot come off the crossbar much earlier in the first half of extra time. As Gilardino took on Metzelder, two other German players came to the attack but none picked up on another sub, Alessandro Del Piero, racing down the left other than Gilardino. The AC Milan striker found Del Piero and with just Lehmann to beat, the German defence opened and wounded, the Juve midfielder dinked a sweet ball over Lehmann that lined up with the underside of the net's roof.
A hundred and eighteen minutes of entertaining football kept the scores level, a moment of tiredness allowed a chink in the German armour to open up and grant two gracious openings to their opponents. Talk has been made of the best game in the tournament so far, Argentina v Mexico topped the opinion but now makes way for this semi-final result. I predicted a Germany v France final, tonight I only see a France victory.