Monday, June 26, 2006

Last day of the 1/8 finals, viva l'attaque!

So the clock ticks down to the last day of the 1/8 of finals. On tap we have Brazil-Ghana and the big one for me Espana - France.

First some thoughts on Brazil - Ghana. I think that Ghana can give Brazil some difficulties with their speed and overall agressive play. I am still not convinced Ronaldo is 100% fit nor motivated. Yes he scored twice, but against Japan...and the first goal I could have scored (maybe not Thierry Henry cause it required heading the ball into the net), the second goal was a spectacular strike from distance. But if Ronaldo is going to content himself with shooting from that distance, he will run into problems versus a tougher and more aggressive Ghana. The main reason why I think Ghana will lose, and Brazil will win rather easily is the lack of one Michael Essein. With two suspect yellow cards in the first round games he is out. He is the one world class player Ghana have, don't get me wrong they have solid players all over the pitch, but in terms of a top 10 world wide player Essein is the only one. His play, motor, and intimidation could have thrown the midfield balance in Ghana's way, he might be one of the few out there that could take a Kaka or Ronaldinho and shut them down. Without him Ghana plays tough but loses: 2-0.

Now on to what could be the best game of the second round - Espana v France. Aragones has decided to go with a very attacking formation:
Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Puyol, Pablo, Pernia, Xavi, Alonso, Fabregas, Raul, Torres, Villa. With three striker Spain is sending out the signal that they mean to attack and score often. Xavi, Alonso and Fabregas in the middle also indicates a push forward. With Domenech supposedly lining up with a 4-2-3-1 this could prove interesting. With two defensive/holding midfielders in Vieira and Makelele, France could play a block defense of 6 players (2 midfielders and the 4 backs) Sending Makelele and Vieira roaming to destroy any midfield creativity by Spain, and trusting the back four to block Raul, Torres and Villa.

I think that France can hold this attacking side, the three forwards have not really played all together on the pitch, they might end up getting in each other's way, and Raul is far from his all time best. I felt he was better suited as a late game joker. Xavi and Alonso are solid in the midfield but how good are they at stopping speedy wingers like Ribery and Malouda, this will place tremendous pressure on the 19 year old Fabergas (he can handle it, see his games for Arsenal, but this remains the World Cup). The key is whether or not this opens up space for France to counter attack, and if they can do so quickly through Zidane, something I am not convinced can be done anymore. Henry could potentially have more room to roam, and if he gets the ball quickly could be lethal. I fear that either Malouda or Ribery will have to track back further to get the ball, this will limit their offensive potential. I would also feel better had we had Coupet in goal, he is more likely to keep his calm and not make some gaff a la Barthez.

The key for France is to withstand what will surely be withering early pressure. If Les Bleus can go into half time tied or down only a goal, I think they have a chance to pull one out. But I think the spanish have it right, this is an old team and have not had the luxury to rest their players, attack early try to get an early goal, and see if France can answer....unfortunately I don't think Les Bleus can....

Spain 2 - France 1...Spain scores two early, France pulls one back late through substitute Trezeguet.

Let the French rebuilding begin!

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