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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

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.



Anonymous Nturtle said...

Great insight Redsman, particularly regarding the ref. I just want to add a little tidbit, about his only wierd decision where Cannavaro was penalised for holding down Podolski INSIDE the penalty area, but the ref then proceeded to give a free kick OUTSIDE the box. It was a soft foul in the first place, and I don't think the young german striker was really able to score or anything...and it would have been extremely harsh on the excellent Italian defender. At the end of the day, it was a poorly converted free kick...and the Italians really took their chances.

I'd blame the poor marking for Grosso's goal...and it's amazing to think that he is yet again the catalyst for a win...I truly HATE the man...for his luck and skill in getting first the penalty against Australia (for obvious reasons)...and here he took his chance superbly. Del Piero's goal was also right hand corner...and Lehmann didn't really have a chance.

Italy vs France it is...and right now...I'd have to say Italy might actually win it, despite all their domestic league problems...and dodgy play-acting.

Come on old-timers step up a gear and turn the tables on the Italian posers!

7/06/2006 7:24 am

Blogger T said...

Fantastic review Redsman... as expected!

Just want to add four points:

1. I thought (and I know I'm not alone) that Cannavaro was simply fantastic... and the consistency of his performances in this World Cup has been sensational!

2. Del Piero's finish was sublime... and fitting for a great player that he produced it in a World Cup semi-final.

3. Jens Lehmann's supreme confidence in his own ability has been vindicated in this World Cup. I also admired the way he kept talking too and reassuring his young defence when they were under pressure... very much like he did with the young Arsenal defence earlier this year.

4. I knew when I tipped Italy to be knocked out in round one that either this would happen and I would revel in my great predicting powers... or they would prove me completely wrong and go to win the whole thing!

7/06/2006 7:54 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

There were good individual performances Tuesday night and Cannavaro's stood out the most. With Klose in the form he has been since the tournament began, it would take a defensive effort to keep, him, Ballack and Podolski out, shots on target from the Germans were few and far between. Thus far the Italians have conceded one goal via a Zaccardo own goal, very unfortunate.

Nturtle, I understand your frustration. Brings to mind Maradona scoring the Hand of God and then later going on a run that seemed to protude through a set of England players as if they were half bothered, looking at that time shocked that an official could allow the first goal. I wanted Maradona's image to be vilified throughout the world (probably not reaching Argentina) for what was a travesty of officialism. To think Maradona's second goal has been considered one of the best in the history.

There were eight German players in within the penalty area and they opened up just that once to allow Grosso's goal. When you are Lehmann and have acted as a barrier behind your defence for some 100+ minutes, it frustrates for an opening to occur when one least knows of it, the only one committed in the game that leads to aiding the opponents. If I were an Australian, I would take some consolation that it would take something out of nothing to break my team. As an Englishman, I cannot do the same for Maradona via his second goal, there is little skill in running through players and scoring with equal measure as if it occured against unskilled primary school children.


7/06/2006 8:41 pm

Anonymous Nturtle said...

Thanks for your words Redsman...I can see similarities too with Maradona...but then's still hard to take! HA! Australia probably would not have been good enough against Germany...even though that also presumes that they prevailed against Ukraine. The Italians have saved the best for last, so you've got to hand it to them for not giving up. We can all keep dreaming about that which was not to be...good luck Italy and France...all I a GOOD GAME with lots of goals...I'd hate to be penalties...

T's comments - yeah...without a doubt...Cannavaro and the Italian defence in general have done extremely well. The experience of simply being good at it day to day in the league really helps I guess...and they have stuck to a system that is "normal" to the WHOLE TEAM, unlike Mr. Ericsson's convoluted tactics of fitting star players into as round pegs in square holes.

Strangely enough...Lehmann has won over a LOT of fan this year. I never thought he was that good...until Almunia proved against Man U that he was that bad...and continued that unlucky form against Barca from two shots beating him at the near post both times. Lehmann I think has learned not to just shout...but to shout in the right hopefully that is something all the young kids at Arsenal can pick up...particularly those like Reyes and v Persie whom both SOMETIME work hard... proedictions then...otherwise Italy will win...(heh heh....)

7/07/2006 2:31 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

Speaking of goalies, has no one noticed Paul Robinson's gloves, which for me looks more suitable for cage fighting than goalkeeping? Just me, I suppose. He seems comfortbale with them but they don't look like suitable standard goalie gloves. Still, it's immaterial about gloves if you cannot get to penalties.


7/07/2006 2:40 pm

Blogger T said...

Yep Redsman, Robinson's black gloves looked odd. On Robinson himself, I had high hopes for him entering the tournament- but my impression was that he let nerves get to him and accordingly was not as solid as expected.

Also, in comparison to the cat-like Ricardo, Robinson paled in comparison with regard to quick movement diving left and right in the penalty shoot-out.

It was only his first major tournament and I hope that with more expereince he gains more confidence and continues to improve... as England's goalkeeper options look decidedly limited in the medium-term. In this regard, I will be interested to see if Man Utd give Ben Foster some game time this sesason after looking impressive for Watford last season.

7/07/2006 7:40 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Hey, you know I first saw Foster against Crystal Palace in the play-offs and I was impressed too. to my knowledge he had little to do but when he did he looked composed. to hear he was on loan from Utd makes it all the more why he looks very good. If he continues, and we get to see more of him, he can break into the England side and replace James. Maybe it is the reason why Tim Howard is on loan to Everton.


7/08/2006 8:12 pm


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