WOW....that is about all I can say about the France - Spain game.
France emerges with a tough fought 3-1 victory to face Brazil.
Where to start,
first I have to tip my hat to Domenech (who I much critised in the past). He game out and appeared to instruct his team to play defensive, behind the half for the first 20 minutes. This gave Spain the false sense of control as their back line passed the ball around w while France was content in sitting back and watching, jumping on loose balls and throwing together some counter attacks.
Even after Spain went up 1-0 on a penalty, France kept their cool. A masterful Vieira opts not to play Henry, who was in an offside position, but rather holds for a second later to free Ribery alone. Ribery cooly dribbled Casillas and slotted home the equalizer. France almost broke through again when Spain bungled their defending and were it not for a misunderstanding between Henry and Ribery one might have broken through alone on Casillas again.
The second half resembled the first with the tension mounting. Zidane and Vieira looked masterful contolling the midfield, Ribery was causing the Spanairds problems. However Spain made the proper changes and brought in Garcia and Joaquin. Both looked dangerous, Joaquin deftly cutting the ball inside the box only to see his shot hit the outside of the net, must say that Barthez had covered the corner well.
As the game drew on it appeared that extra time was in the cards, however a silly foul on Henry by Puyol, on replay it is clear that Henry sells the foul, but Puyol did obstruct Henry. Zidane then finally hit a dangerous free kick into the box (Zidane's corner kicks left much to be desired). Vieira, inexplicably was left unmarked and thumped home a heavy header that was deflected into the net, this time no Koreanesque non call, this one was clearly in.
France then were under seige as Spain looked to eqaulize. Finally Domenech made some smart substitutions, bringing in a fresh Wiltord for Henry. Wiltord was the key man in springing Zidane for the coup de grace - a beautiful solo effort for the third goal.
A few intial thoughts:
- Spain played well, but did not have the finishing touch needed to score from the run of play. They will continue to live with the moniker of not being able to step up in the big games. A moniker that is unfair, they were in this game and could have broken through the other way. I do have to question Raul playing behind the stikers, he was invicible and was not controlling the field.
- France played a great game plan, Vieira, Zidane looked inspired and the defense held their ground. Sagnol played a huge game clearing out crosses and marking Torres. The volume of play in the midfield was evident when Gallas and Thurman were rarely called upon to clear up any mistakes. The one issue is keeping Henry focused and not lazy, wandering back from off sides positions. But he remains the type of stiker that only needs one clean ball and can finish.
- Keeping cool, France kept their cool after being dominated on the possession as well as the score sheet going into the end of the first half...they were rewarded with the Ribery goal. France kept their cool in the second half when Spain pushed, a good sign from a team that at times looked shakey against the Swiss and Koreans.
- The end of the game - the French players demonstrated a joy and happiness rarely seen from this team since the 2002 world cup debacle. I credit much of this to Ribery. After he scored he demonstrated the unbriddled joy of a young player who scored his first international goal, on the world cup stage none the less. His mad dash from the Spanish goal to the French touch line awoke some emotions in the French. The goal by Vieira inspired a mad full team celebration. Once the game was over you could see that this was much more than a victory, but a relief and a renewed sense of joy. France need to keep this attitude if they have a chance against Brazil.
- The ref, of all the games this referree was the best, he controlled the game. Rather than start handing out cards in the first few minutes (similar to our Russian friend in the Portugal-Holland match) he chose to instead speak to players. I must admit some of his later cards were questionable...but overall he allowed the game to be played rather than being the focus.