Tuesday, July 04, 2006

One more for Berlin

We are within the 24 hours for the final team to be determined for the World Cup finals next Sunday. And of course one of those teams are my Les Bleus. I have tried not to think about this game too much, I cannot really handle the tension...then again this is a much better feeling than 4 years ago.

I think this game will be very tight (which game at this stage of the tournament is not?). I think that both teams have very strong midfields. The other day when I was watching the beginning of the Holland-Portugal game I realized, "wow the portugese midfield is stacked." Figo, Maniche, Ronaldo, Deco, and Costinha. Scolari has the perfect system set up. Maniche and Costinha are the midfield "destroyers." But with a twisted: Maniche can also push up and prove deadly in front of goal (just ask Holland). They then have Figo on a wing, while he is not the player he once was, he still had the touch and intelligence to create tremendous danger for the opposing defense. Ronaldo does the same from anywhere on the pitch. He is the young dribbler, he can break down any team with his pace and dribbling. Finally there is Deco, who really is the field manager. He slots in nicely in the middle of this midfield, distributing the ball, shooting, dribbling etc. When need be he can also drift further back and allow Maniche to push up more into an offensive role. This is the heart of the Portugese team. Pauleta is the perfect striker, he is not the fastest or deadliest striker of the ball, but he has great postioning and is a fabulous poacher. While he has not scored this tournament he played a vital role in Portugal's victory against Holland, laying off a great ball to Maniche. Portugal's back 4 can be suspect (although Miguel, the right back, has been tremendous for Portugal) but Ricardo is a big time goalkeeper.

Also, let us not forget that Portugal are not the pedigreelight team some might have you believe. Granted they have not always shone in the world cup, this is only their second semi final since 1966. But they have reached the semi-finals of the European cup in 1984, 2000 and to the finals in 2004. They have had great success in the youth tournaments, as well as on the club level. Unlike South Korea and Turkey from 2002, they are not in awe of being in the semi finals of the World Cup. And they still have Big Phil.

As for France. They will be playing their 5th world cup semi final, and this is the second semi final for many of these players. So they will not be intimidated. I also think that Germany losing today will play a role on the French psyche. The one team France fears remains Germany. After 1982 and 1986, France must feel snake bitten against their Eastern neighbor (I will refrain from diving into the
"other" small issues we have had over the centuries with Germany/Prussia). While I am sure no one would have discussed it, I am sure that if Germany had won today that somewhere in the back of all the French player's minds would have been a possible date in Berlin against Deutschland, distracting them from the monumental task they have in the semi finals. I think that Les Bleus will go into this game completely focused on Portugal, they know they can play them well. The defense (Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal) and holding midfielders (Makelele and Vieira) are playing extremely well together, defending, covering, starting counter attacks, even flowing up into the attack (especially Vieira who has been a monster the past three games, and Sagnol who has demonstrated a desire to push up, ball at feet more than in the first round games). Zidane, is well the Master Zidane. Ribery and Malouda have been the spark plugs with their tireless work on the wings. Henry has scored, but he has yet to really put together a spurt like we are accustom to seeing him do for Arsenal...could this be the time?

Predictions: I think that the game will be very tight. I hope that our card happy referee imitates the game today and lets the players dictate the outcome, if so I think we could be in for a nerve racking game (Especially for me). I think Big Phil is a tactical genius, but his team was lucky to escape the penalty kick averse English, even down 10 players England was dangerous and Portugal had no real solution for the British defense. Additionally, Portugal have logged some hard minutes in those legs: asked to play down 2 men against Holland and the full extra time against England. I think France are clicking and will not take this opponent lightly. In a drawn out match we have a remake of the 2000 European Cup semi finals - France 2 Portugal 1.

My heart and mind tell me that France will win....but if they lose it will make my depression that much worse!

No comments:

There was an error in this gadget