Sunday, July 09, 2006

Forza Italia

Congratulations to Italy for winning the 2006 World Cup and adding another (their 4th) star to their kits. They only have Brazil ahead of them in overall titles.

While I am saddened to see Les Bleus lose this match I more deeply saddened to see Zinedine Zidane exit the world stage in such a manner.

First some thoughts on the game. Both teams played well, both teams had great chances. I think that Italy played their style of bend but don't break. France had a chance to really control this game once they scored the early goal. It appears they were shocked to be leading 1-0 after the match barely started. Rather than continue to look for possesion they fell back into a defensive shell, did they really believe they could defend a 1-0 lead for 80 minutes?

Italy took advantage of this and looked to find the equalizer. Which they found through a wonderfully taken Pirlo corner. Materazzi (the new villan for French futball) beating Vieira to the spot to head home the equalizer. It was a deserved equalizer because France allowed Italy to dictate the pace of the game and looked disjointed at the back. This lead to another 20 minutes of Italian pressure. Toni headed another corner off the cross bar, Thuram cleared another header (although a foul had been given to the French), Thuram also had a magnificent sliding tackle in the box to prevent a Toni shot from being on goal. But France looked timid and feel back into a shell.

As the second half started, something must have been said in the locker room to motivate the troops because France came out and started to dictate the pace. Malouda and Ribery started running at and around the Italian flanks. Even the great Cannavaro got burned with a nutmeg from Malouda. Henry also started to pick it up, looking very dangerous from his wide position. Malouda was brought down in the box for what should have been a penalty but I think the referee lost his nerve and allowed the fact he had already granted the French a PK to make him swallow his whistle. Mean while the Italians looked tired, they had a goal called back due to a dubious offside. But they still looked tired. Can anyone tell me where Toti was the entire game? The one Italian that really impressed me was the "snarling dog" Gattuso, he was everywhere. Things became a little bleaker for France when Vieira had to be taken off for injury, this really hampered the French. Diarra had to come in and it was obvious from his first few minutes that he was intimidated by the event. He did recover nicely and actually played quite well the last 20 minutes. But without Vieira the French had no linkage between the defense and attack, although Makelele stepped up to try and fill this role, which he did admirably, but he does not have the offensive ability of Vieira.

I felt that the second half belonged to France. They looked dangerous and were really wearing down the Italians, but just could not get the last step, last shot they needed to grab that decisive goal. The statistics are astounding:

France 14 shots (7 on goal), 7 corners
Italy 5 shots (2 on goal), 5 corners (I think all in the first half!)
Possession was about 50 - 50 but considering that Italy had a 70 - 30 advantage in the first 25 minutes, France was dominating the ball the rest of the game.

This continued into Extra Time. Domenech threw in Trezeguet to try and add some offensive punch, unfortunately Henry cramped up and we could not see the two great strikers on the pitch long enough to have an impact. In both extra time periods the French looked the more dangerous, Ribery missing after an incredible give and go with Malouda. The shot had clearly beaten Buffon but did not have enough spin. Then a great build up between Sagnol and Zidane almost made the latter a hero again. His bullet of a header wonderfully saved by Buffon....Zizou, you should have gone near post!!!

And of course shortly after that disaster struck. Zidane lost his cool and pile drove his head into our friend Materazzi's chest. Not sure what Materazzi said, but it must have been bad...then again Zidane should know better. He has been playing for his entire life, as the captain he knows better. This completely took the wind out of the French sails. While they still pushed and fought on bravely without their captain, it came down to PKs. I knew France was doomed. With their two best takers - Zidane and Henry, as well as Vieira who would have very likely taken one, the French had to turn to their second options for PKs....not something you want to have to do.

It was academic. Of course if Trezeguet does not miss by a few inches who knows. But I don't think the French had the people on the pitch that could have lasted in PKs. Had Zidane been on the pitch, I think Les Bleus would have had the confidence to win at PKs...without his calming factor and ability, and without Henry's PK abilities France were doomed to suffer becoming Vice Champions of the World without losing.

Of course my feeling of saddness is more related to watching Zidane leave the way he did. Part of his genius was his rage, his anger that he could channel to perform at an unprecedented level on the pitch. But it was also this rage that would rear its ugly head through out his career. I never thought it would on such a stage. Irregardless of this match, Zidane needs to be view for the master and genius that he is. Without him France would not be where they are, they might not have even made the tournament. He was amazing against Spain, but was out of the world against Brazil. Until that headbutt I kept thinking he was going to do something special to will France to beat Italy. I hope that Zidane allows France to cap him one more time, in Paris or Marseille to give him the send off he truly deserves. Once the tears and pain die down, we should all remember Zidane as the greatest player France has seen, better than Kopa, Fontaine, Cantona, Henry and yes the immortal Platini.

It is also worth mentioning Lilian Thuram, who played his last competitive game for France. He proved what a top level defender he is. All tournament we heard about Cannavaro, and while the Italian was spectacular I might put Thuram above him. Lilian was the rock that held the French defense together, was always properly placed, and was the calming factor the french back line needed at times. He only scored two goals in his international career in the same game, I would argue the second most important brace a French player has enjoyed in a game (the other one being Zidane's in teh 1998 WC finals). He was a monster in this WC semi finals. And kept the game in control when it looked as if the Italians would add another goal in the first half.

Forza Italia 2006 world cup champions.

Allez les Bleus, they did not deserve such an outcome. But they deserve a hero's welcome for what they did in this world cup. They have made me proud to be French.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, mon ami. It was pretty sad to see Zidane go out like that. . . come keep your head for another 10 minutes and life might be different. . .

Excellent commentary. . . .