A massive, massive match between two of the biggest powers in world football: 3 time champions Germany (1954, 1974, 1990) and 2 time champions Argentina (1978, 1986). Oh, and they have just a bit of history. Not only have they met 10 times before (4 ARG wins, 3 GER wins, 3 draws), these two teams met in the World Cup final in both 1986, where Maradona's Argentina beat Germany 3-2 in the final in Mexico, and again in 1990, where Germany exacted revenge in a 1-0 final in Italy marred by a red-card, a penalty kick goal, and some truly brutal tackling.
ARG: very talented.
Which brings us to today's quarterfinal. Argentina are 1 of 2 clearcut favorites to win the tournament, and have as much talent and depth as Brasil if not more. Not a whole lot was expected of the German team this time around, but they have played arguably the best soccer of any team in the tournament over the first 4 games (and lots of anti-German stereotype Joga Bonito I might add). Oh, and they are the host country, which as you know is a massive advantage (8 of the 17 host nations have reached the final, with 6 of those 8 winning the Cup). Germany has really rallied behind this team, and now they believe that they can win the whole shooting match. So playing at home will be a massive advantage, and even moreso that they are fortunate that this match will be played in Berlin at the largest stadium in the country (80,000).
GER: talented as well, and playing at home.
Yellow cards: Germany have only midfielder Torsten Frings on a yellow. Argentina have two defenders, Sorin and Heinze, on a yellow card. That will be a bit dicey for Argentina, as both are not ones to shy away from a hard tackle, especially Heinze, who although very talented is a bit of a hardman enforcer.
Fitness/rest: For what it's worth, both teams are on 5 days rest. Argentina are playing their 5th match in 21 days and Germany their 5th in 22, so there's not much difference at all between the two.
GER: breaking with conservative tradition.
Both teams are going to play an attacking style and try to take the game to the other - no 4-5-1 here. Should be very exciting for the neutrals. Per usual, I think the key player for Argentina is Messi - they just seem so much more dangerous going forward when he is in. Saviola might not start, but his work thusfar has been excellent and has been lost in the shuffle a little and underappreciated. For Germany , their two strikers Klose and Podolski have been red hot - probably the best tandem of the entire World Cup. Will Ballack show up and boss a match? Also, Germany will need Mats Wilander to have a huge match in the goal. He has been great thusfar - 3 clean sheets in a row and the only 2 goals he has conceded were the two Paolo Wanchope breakaways, which a keeper is not expected to save and are really the fault of the defense (of course this hasn't kept Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer from bitching and moaning about not playing ahead of Mats, who has clearly been better all year). Anyhow, Mats hasn't really been tested thusfar but you know he will be today - he needs a big match for Germany to win.
ARG: always like to let it all hang out.
Bottom line: I can't call it. I think it will be an exciting match with lots of offense, so I'll give you a score but not the winner. 3-2 is your final in one of the matches of the tournament.
Halftime. 0-0. This match is just exciting enough not to be boring, and just boring enough not to be exciting. Intense and dramatic because of the situation/environment, but as a soccer match not so great - very few chances by either team. This match needs a goal badly to open up; the longer it goes 0-0 the more each team will play not to lose rather than play to win, and the mentality will become "defend at all cost, don't concede, try to nick a goal on a counterattack, and worst case scenario take our chances on penalties".
Again, I think Messi can change the game and be the difference.
Is is just me or does the referee look like Steve Buscemi?
Germany 1-1 Argentina a.e.t (4:2 PSO).
Hero: none other than Mats. He kept Germany alive at the end of regulation with arguably the save of the tournament. Then when it went to penalties I thought Germany would win and Mats would be the hero, given his incredible history of saving big penalties. And damn if he didn't guess correctly on all 4 shots, save two of them, and become a legend and hero to an entire nation just like he has for Arsenal fans worldwide. Oliver who? Cromagnon man can shut it, because he would not have done what Mats did today. I am so happy for Mats, who has had to sit in the shadow of Kahn all these years, and when finally given the chance has stepped up and showed the world how damn good a keeper he is. He even threw in a bit of his craziness when he came 40 yards out of his goal to get in Rodriguez's face for rolling around and wasting time in the 75th minute. Sweet.
Mats! Legend in North London and now Deutschland as well.
Goat: Peckerman, the aptly named Argentine coach. Up 1-0 with 25 minutes to go and one sub left, he took of Crespo and brought on
Hey Peckerman: they don't make banners and murals
of bench warmers.
Later: SO the first half was pretty boring, like two heavyweights feeling each other out. Argentina seemed to be controlling the match, and soon after the break they went ahead on a beautiful header by Ayala off a Riquelme corner kick. Germany had a defender guarding the line on each post, and the header was just out of reach of Mats' outstretched dive as well as the defender. I would guess that only about 10% of the entire goal was available and damn if he didn't find it. Very nice. Argentina stayed in control, and importantly their keeper got hurt & had to be subbed, leaving Peckerman with only two. I told the guys I had met at the bar that Germany better score an equalizer before Messi comes on, because after that I thought is was much more likely that Argentina would score a second than Germany a first. Around the 70th minute Peckerman took off Riquelme, the midfield quarterback who was heloing ARG control the ball and the match, and put in Cambiasso, more of a holding defensive midfielder whose strength is defending and winning the ball rather than controlling the midfield. Up 1-0 is was not a bad substitution at all, because he still had half-striker Messi on the bench. I assumed that soon thereafter he would take off Crespo and put on Messi, who would take over that role of holding the ball, holding possession, and controlling the midfield. Instead Peckerman took off Crespo and put on Cruz, a target man of a forward who is not at all a holder or controller of the ball. Ever since Riquelme went off GErmany controlled the midfield and the match, and 1 minute after Cruz came on as the last sub Germany equalized on a beautiful, cross, flickon header, and finishing header by Klose. Argentina were suddenly fucked. No Riquelme to control the middle, no Messi to control the ball, no midfield maestro - only a very tired Tevez and a target man Cruz up front. Messi & Saviola could only watch as it was clear that ARG did not have an effective team on the field at all. Huge advantage swing over to Germany.
Mats saved Germany's
That's exactly what happened as I wrote above. The penalty shootout was dramatic: the two best teams in World Cup penalty shootouts, both 3-0, and on top of the the Germans are known to pretty much never lose at penalties; they have that reputation, that aura, that mystique. Mats went into some Zen meditation thing before the shootout. At that point I knew the Albaceleste had no chance. Germany lived up to their stereotype of German Efficiency, unlike the Swiss who in their penalty shootout the other day were far from precise. Mats guessed correctly on all 4 Argentine penalties, saved two, and even got a hand on Maxi Rodruguez's near perfect penalty that went into the side netting. All four German penalties were true; 3 were literally unsaveable and Ballack shot his to the opposite side of where the keeper guessed. Dramatic stuff indeed.
The only other thing worth mentioning is that as I have learned in watching him since the last World Cup, Michael Ballack is a unabashed cheating diver. He blatantly dived int he box no less than three times. The last one was so obvious that I called it. As Germany lined up that free kick from the right near the end, i said to the bar, "Ballack will dive in the box and try to get a penalty", which is exactly what happened. They all looked at me like I was some kind of swami, but it was as abvious as saying "that drunk ass dude is going to hit on that pretty girl, make a total ass of himself, and strike out" at the club around 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. Shameless stuff from Ballack; I can see him and Drogba giving each other pointers off to the side of Chel$ea's practice sessions.
Lastly, Argentina went all Ron Burgundy just after losing: "You stay classy,
Three time champions Italy (1934, 1938, 1982) represent Old Money, while first time participants Ukraine represent New Money. Italy have lots of superstar talent all over the park. Ukraine are largely seen as a workmanlike 10 plus Shevchenko, one of the 5 best players in the world, and in my opinion one of the 3 best strikers on the planet (Henry, Eto'o). They have only played three times, with Italy winning 2 Euro 96 qualifiers and the teams playing a 0-0 friendly just a month ago in their final World Cup tune-up match.
Don't try to act hard: you would wear the goofy-ass hat
too if she asked. Oh yes you would.
Yellow cards: Italy will miss hardman defender
Fitness/rest: Both teams are on 3 days rest. Italy are playing their 5th match in 19 days and Ukraine are playing their 5th match in 17 days.
The general perception of this match is that Italy are massive favorites and should win easily, but I think those who write off Ukraine as rank outsiders may be doing so at great risk. Both teams came in with high expectations and have underwhelmed thusfar, but as I said earlier, either team is capable of catching fire and stomping the other. So there are basically 4 scenarios: one team snaps out of it and plays great while the other continues to stutter and you see a convincing 2-0 or 3-1 win, both snap out of it and you see an epic extra time or even penalty shootout thriller, or both continue to stutter and you see a boring and disappointing scoreless draw or a 1-0 on the excitement level of England-Ecuador (read: not very).
So which is it? I have no idea: if I did I wouldn't be writing this right now I would be over here increasing my personal wealth. I do thnk that Sheva is going to create a goal either for himself or for a teammate, and I also think that Luca Toni is going to stop hitting posts and put one in the back of the net. Beyond that I don't know, although I will be rooting for Ukraine to pull the shocker.
UKR: ready to rise up and shock the world?
Italy 3-0 Ukraine.
In the pregame I gave 4 scenarios. As it turned out, the match was a hybrid of two of them. Both teams in fact played much better than they had, but we didn't get the classic match I thought that would bring. Instead we got what on paper is an Italian asswhipping. But I must say that in the 2nd half Ukraine played their best soccer of the tournament. Unfortuantely for them they have nothing to show for it, because Italy were straight up assassins: they had about 5 good chances and they scored on three of those. Ukraine created about a dozen really good scoring chances but just couldn't get the ball in the net, having one off the crossbar and a few cleared off the line. Buffon was outstanding, esprecially after slamming his head into the post. I wasn't sure he could continue but he not only finished the match he played great in goal. And Luca Toni put in 2 goals as I predicted he would. Last year's leading goalscorer in Europe wasn't going to go much longer without putting his name on the scoresheet. His first was a beautiful header, and his second was a simple tap in made possible by an outstanding move and pass by Zambrotta, who himself scored the opener for Italy with a beautiful rocket left footed shot from about 25 yards out. Definitely the best Italy have looked to date. Is Italy 06 a reincarnation of Italy 82, with Luca Toni playing the part of Paolo Rossi? We'll find out more on Tuesday I suppose.
Tonight they're gonna party like it's
I have been very critical of the Azzurri in past matches, so it is only fair that I tip my cap to them for their performance today. They played well, and by and large kept the soap opera dramatics to relatively low levels, despite the fact that Ukraine were very physical with them, especially in the first half. Gattuso was a stud for playing on after having his wrist inadvertantly stomped, and Buffon was a stud for his performance after smashing his dome against the post. And they played some beautiful soccer today. Credit where credit is due.
There are some things to like about Italy.