FIFA World Cup: Semi-Finals

Some random thoughts on the Semi-finals of the 2006 FIFA World Cup:     – Nothing cautious about the way Germany and Italy approached their semi-final fixture. Both teams moved the ball around well, getting the ball into the attacking end quickly and not spending too much time in the middle third of the pitch. Both midfields were a tad scatter-shot, showing no real coordinated plan going forward. Although Germany had shown some good forward quality on the flanks in their previous tournament fixtures, they seemed to have show better inventiveness going through Michael Ballack through the center. Italy, on the other hand, was just the opposite, seemingly doing a good job of attacking on the wings with Fabio Grosso and Mauro Camorenesi. Germany’s Cristophe Metzelder and Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro did a marvelous job of man-marking and dispossessing on direct opposition service into the box. One of the few matches I’ve ever seen where there was a lot of back and forth that amounted to nothing really: Both Germany and Italy showed lots of energy and pace and got the ball deep into each other’s penalty area but didn’t take any real quality chances on goal. Not very good offensive build-up or coordination. I was left wondering why Italy coach Marcello Lippi went with just one out-and-out striker (first Luca Toni and then Alberto Gilardino). Andrea Pirlo wasn’t effective at all as the playmaker; Francesco Totti was virtually invisible as the withdrawn forward. Germany made only slightly better use of its attacking midfield. Much better chances on goal for both teams in extra time as the pace got frenetic. In a game this devoid of attractive attacking quality it came down to who got through first in a trench war of attrition: Italy got there first on – what else – a set piece goal by Fabio Grosso with one minute left (Alessandro del Piero scored an unnessessary goal moments later). Despite not making it to the final, MADD MADD MADD MADD MADD PROPS to German coach Jurgen Klinsmann for providing the best inventive, attractive attacking football we saw this tournament. Italy, which didn’t play up-to-snuff for most of this tournament, finally played like their predecessors of yore – with ruthlessness, backbone and boundless direct attacking – and get a date in Berlin. 

  – Nothing cautious about the way Germany and Italy approached their semi-final fixture. Both teams moved the ball around well, getting the ball into the attacking end quickly and not spending too much time in the middle third of the pitch. Both midfields were a tad scatter-shot, showing no real coordinated plan going forward. Although Germany had shown some good forward quality on the flanks in their previous tournament fixtures, they seemed to have show better inventiveness going through Michael Ballack through the center. Italy, on the other hand, was just the opposite, seemingly doing a good job of attacking on the wings with Fabio Grosso and Mauro Camorenesi. Germany’s Cristophe Metzelder and Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro did a marvelous job of man-marking and dispossessing on direct opposition service into the box. One of the few matches I’ve ever seen where there was a lot of back and forth that amounted to nothing really: Both Germany and Italy showed lots of energy and pace and got the ball deep into each other’s penalty area but didn’t take any real quality chances on goal. Not very good offensive build-up or coordination. I was left wondering why Italy coach Marcello Lippi went with just one out-and-out striker (first Luca Toni and then Alberto Gilardino). Andrea Pirlo wasn’t effective at all as the playmaker; Francesco Totti was virtually invisible as the withdrawn forward. Germany made only slightly better use of its attacking midfield. Much better chances on goal for both teams in extra time as the pace got frenetic. In a game this devoid of attractive attacking quality it came down to who got through first in a trench war of attrition: Italy got there first on – what else – a set piece goal by Fabio Grosso with one minute left (Alessandro del Piero scored an unnessessary goal moments later). Despite not making it to the final, MADD MADD MADD MADD MADD PROPS to German coach Jurgen Klinsmann for providing the best inventive, attractive attacking football we saw this tournament. Italy, which didn’t play up-to-snuff for most of this tournament, finally played like their predecessors of yore – with ruthlessness, backbone and boundless direct attacking – and get a date in Berlin.   

– Much better midfield link-up play in the Portugal-France semi-final. This is the kind of coordinated attacking football that was missing in the Germany-Italy semi-final. If you didn’t know how important Deco really is to Portugal, you saw it in his return from a one-game suspension in this game: He and Maniche just have the communication down, and Cristiano Ronaldo on the left side was really a great sparkplug going forward. As much as I would like to jump on the Zinedine Zidane bandwagon and claim that his rejuvenation as a midfield creative wizard and other-worldly ball magician is the reason France are back I can’t because every time France made an inventive foray forward it was because Zidane switched the ball out to the flanks (Eric Abidal, Florent Malouda and Franck Ribery). That said, the linkup between the grizzled veterans Zidane and Thierry Henry is clearly effective (Portugal came into this game with so many players on one yellow card, so that may have affected the way they defended because they weren’t closing down anybody with the same kind of bite that they had in earlier fixtures. I’m not really a fan of one-forward formations and tactics: I just think that if the objective is to create scoring chances, even if it requires a five-man midfield, has a better chance at creative attacking success if there is more than one target man in the box. Not really sure if that really was a foul in the box on Henry, but I won’t argue the point; the refereeing in this match was actually consistent. Patrick Vieira doesn’t get enough credit for being as good as he is, but he is clearly the best transition player in the game; he goes forward into the attack so much that we forget that he is the world-class stopper, in front of the backline, that stops the opposition attack from gaining any coordinated attacking momentum in the penalty area. In this match it showed: In the second half Portugal didn’t get a decent shot on goal off once. You hate for a game like this to be decided by only one penalty kick, especially with two teams that played as attractive in attack as these two. But no blaming the referee this time. Portugal finally played up to their abilities in a World Cup, and all the credit should go to their coach, Luis Felipe “Big Phil” Scolari, who finally gave them a ruthlessness and backbone they clearly had been missing. Gotta give it to France: At knockout time they don’t play merely to survive, they play to win. Whether anybody knows it or not, the two best defenses in this tournament are going to play for the championship. 

  

daveydoug