Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Semifinals: Day 22 Random Thoughts /
Open Thread

Happy 4th of July. What better way to celebrate America's national holiday than by watching two former axis powers play a game that this country largely doesn't care about? Call me un-American, but I can't wait: it will be the highlight of my day. Enjoy the matches, and to my German and Italian friends, I wish you all good luck.

Not American, but celebrating her independence
nonetheless (from wearing undergarments)

It doesn't get much bigger than this as far as a big time matchup between 2 titans of world soccer: Die Mannschaft against the Azzurri. Three time champion Germany (1954, 1974, 1990) against 3 time champion Italy (1934, 1938, 1982), with the winner advancing to the final and having an excellent shot at adding a 4th star to the crest.

GER: 2 big efforts from a 4th world title.

Germany are also trying to advance to what would be their record breaking 8th World Cup final (they finished as runners up in 1966, 1982, 1986, and 2002). The trick for them is that Italy have absolutely pwned them in major international competitions, going 6-0 against Germany. Four of those wins were in the World Cup, most recently the 1982 final, with another 2 wins over Germany in the European Championships. Add to that a comprehensive 4-1 drubbing of Germany in Florence back in March of this year, and Italy certainly seem to have the hoodoo over the Germans.

But if things go to extra time and then penalties, then Germany will be heavily favored, because they always win on penalties. They are 4-0 in World Cup penalty shootouts, which just happens to be the best record ever. Additionally, since their penalty shootout loss to Czechoslovakia in the final match of Euro 1976, they have not lost a single penalty shootout in any competition. Furthermore, no German player has missed a penalty kick in a shootout since the famous 1982 World Cup semifinal with France. Talk about stereotypical German effeciency - damn.

Italy on the other hand are right up there with England when it comes to dreading penalty shootouts. They crashed out of 1998 World Cup quarterfinals finals to France, the 1994 final match to Brasil, and the 1990 semifinals on home soil to Argentina (not nearly as significant, but they also lost a 8-9 penalty shootout to Czechoslovakia in the 3rd place match of Euro 1980). So with all the mental demons that come into play in shootouts, if it goes to penalties, then big advantage to Germany. Plus they have Mats.

ITA: hoping penalties won't be the kiss of death yet again.

This match is basically a tossup. Italy are gelling at just the right time, per usual, and as I said earlier this year's team reminds me of the Italian team in 1982, that started off slow and then caught fire in the knockout stage and won the whole shooting match. Luca Toni 2006 has the potential to be Paolo Rossi 1982. If you're into that sort of thing, then a further correlation is that the massive match fixing scandal in Italian soccer is the first since... 1982.

Germany on the other hand have gained momentum throughout the whole competition, and playing at home in a 70,000 seat stadium in Dortmund will be a massive advantage. Germany have played some of the best offensive soccer in the tournament, and the striker pairing of Klose and Podolski has been the most prolific of any team in the tournament, with 8 goals between them. Italy have not conceded a goal to another team in 5 matches thusfar - the one goal against them was an own goal by their right back in the Italy-USA match. Both teams have outstanding goalkeepers in Mats and Buffon respectively. Something's gotta give.

A very intriguing late development is that on Monday Torsten Frings was suspended for today's match by FIFA for throwing a punch at Julio Cruz of Argentina in the scuffle that broke out after the match. Here's the interesting bit: FIFA didn't do anything about it until allegedly a videotape highlighting the punch was sent to FIFA by Sky Italia TV, and only then did they suspend him after seeing the video with the one punch brought to their attention. I saw the punch several times tonight and have to say that is was pretty weak, certainly not what you think of when you hear the word "punch". Anyhow Frings is out, and apparently the German camp is none too pleased with the widely assumed to be true rumor that it was the result of Italian TV calling it to FIFA's attention. It was funny to hear Italian coach Lippi at his presser yesterday firmly deny that anyone on Italy's team or soccer federation had anything to do with Frings being suspended. Of course not, Marcello, but then no one has accused you of doing any such thing - it was an Italian TV station that you are not in a postition to speak for. Anyhow, the whole thing will just add a certain edge to the already huge and tense affair.

Frings has been great in this World Cup, and he will be missed. Plain and simple: if Germany are going to win tomorrow then Ballack needs to step up and have a big match. He is constantly hyped as far and away Germany's best player, but in this tournament he hasn't really done much at all, except miss a ton of chances in the Sweden match and then do absolutely nothing in the Argentina match except miss a great first half chance and have 3 world class dives (of course he stepped up in the shootout and made his penalty, we've covered that already). He needs to take off the Speedo, lace up his boots and play a blinder in a Frings-less midfield if Germany are to win.

On a Yellow Card: Germany: Podolski, Odonkor, Friedrich. Italy: Grosso, Gattuso, Zambrotta.

So what will happen? I don't know - I think this one is too close to call. I do know that with the quality of the goalkeepers in this match I cannot see it being high scoring; I would be shocked if there were more than 3 goals, and 3 would be an absolute max. So look for a low scoring but intense and exciting battle. Of the 4 teams left Italy are my least favorite, and between Mats and California Klinsmann I would like to see Germany win, but something tells me that Italy are going to find a way to get a win tomorrow. Unless it goes to penalties - then Germany will win through to the final and Mats will be the hero again.

The last thing to note is that this match will be refereed by the dude who did the Switzerland-Ukraine match, where there was lots of physical contact and he only produced one yellow card. That might become significant at some point.

3rd min.: How about right off the bat? Gattuso kicks the shit out of Podolski's shin, but no yellow card is given. This ref is living up to his reputation for letting them play.

18th min.: Mats comes out of his goal to breakup and save a pseudo Italy breakaway.

25th min.: Luca Toni whiffed on a point blank free header in the box from an outstanding Pirlo free kick. That was the first really good chance of the match.

34th min.: Italy winning corners and creating several half-chances; they have definitely controlled the last 15 minutes, but Mats has been a rock thusfar.

35th min.: Schneider has the best chance of the match by far for Germany, but blasts his wide open shot from 15 yards just over Buffon's crossbar. That was close.

41st min.: Borowski is booked for a tackle on Totti where he got the ball and the man. If that was a yellow then there should have been about 3 others, especially the Gattuso thing in minute 3.

42nd. min: Italy cannot stay on their feet to save their lives. Any contact and they are going to ground. It's almost funny - it's like watching 10 Robert Pires' out there.

45th min.: Totti lands from a midair collision and immediately starts the Emmanuel Lewis stop drop & roll. The referee finally tells him to get the hell up.

Half Time. Another 0-0. Hopefully things will come to a boil in the 2nd half. I am guessing two dozen Italian rollings around on the ground off of maybe 6 legitimate fouls. Come on , azzurri. You are too talented to be doing this shit - this is why you frustrate me so and I can't support you.

51st min.: More of the same. Grosso, the Italian diving hero of the Australia match, has his breakaway shot saved by Mats (he was then called offsides, wrongly), he jumps over Mats, there is no contact, yet a minute later he is rolling around on the ground until the referee summons the medical team with the stretcher. After being told he has to get on the stretcher, he jumps up and runs off the field. Absolutely shameful. Exhibit A of what I hate about Italian soccer. He should definitely have been given a yellow card. I do love that Mats, knowing there was absolutely no contact, stood right over him the whole time. Classic Mats.

62nd min.: Podolski has an open shot from about 10 yards but blasts it right at Buffon, who makes a good reaction save.

65th min.: It's getting clearer and clearer that this match is only going to have 1 goal in it, if that.

70th min.: Cosmo Kramer Materazzi gets in on the act: fouled hard on his body, he falls to the ground, grabs one of his legs and rolls. As soon as he realizes that the referee has given the foul, he pops up. This is getting flat-out ridiculous.

73rd min.: Germany use their 1st substitution: Schweinsteiger on for Borowski.

74th min.: Italy use their 1st sub: Gilardino on for Luca Toni.

80th min.: Germany are clearly tired. That 120 minutes against Argentina is definitely affecting them.

81st min.: Germany are awarded a free kick just outside the box, which is interesting considering that the foul occurred inside the box. Ballack blasts over.

83rd min.: Odonkor on for Schneider, who played an excellent match. Odonkor's pace on the wing has caused problems for the opposition in every match.

85th min.: Mats saves another breakaway opportunity from Perotta, and they collide int he process. Perotta tries to make a meal of it, but the referee is not hearing it. Mats is Germany's MOTM to this point.

89th min.: Furio from Sopranos Camoranesi is booked for a bad challenge. 3 minutes of added time to be played.

Full Time. 0-0. Germany have 1 more substitution available, who I assume will be Neuville. Italy have two, not sure who they will use: Iaquinta? Ignazi? Del Piero? Both teams are tired, Germany moreso, but with these two goalkeepers don't be suprised if we see another scoreless 30 minutes and then penalties.

Iaquinta on for Camoranesi. 1 sub left for both teams.

91st min.: Gilardino makes a great move on the endline, beats Mats to his near post, but can't beat the post, as his shot clangs off the woodwork, and no one is there to tap it home.

92nd min.: Zambrotta goes The Clash and rocks the crossbar with a rocket shot from the edge of the box. Germany look flat-footed and tired, it's one-way traffic at the moment.

95th min.: Germany settle back into the match and things are fairly even again.

103rd min.: Ballack, Germany's lone simulator, and Iaquinta collide hard, and each one tries to outdo the other: Iaqunita goes for two hands to the top of the head, while Ballack goes for two hands to the face. I'll call it a draw.

104th min.: Del Piero on for Perotta. Italy's last substitution.

105th min.: Totti dives just outside the box, but the foul is not given.

105th min.: The final play of the period sees a great Odonkor cross find Podolski alone in the box with a free header, but he blasts is wide.

End 1st extra period. 0-0. Italy were unlucky to hit the woodwork twice in 2 minutes. Will it come back to haunt them?

110th min.: Neuville on for Klose. Does he have a winner at the death in him like he did against Poland?

111st min.: End to end action - Mats takes it off Del Piero's foot, then Podolski forces a world class save from Buffon at the other end. Great stuff.

119th min.: After a scramble in the box, Pirlo feeds a wide open Grosso whose left footed curler goes around a diving Mats and in off the post. Italy have pulled it out at the death. 1-0. Heartbreak for the hosts.

120th min.: Just to put an exclamation point on their last minute win, Italy add on another beautiful Golaso!, a counterattack with Gilardino feeding the run of Del Piero, who places an unsaveable shot in the corner. 2-0 Italy with probably the last kick of the match.

Germany 0-2 Italy. a.e.t.
Absolute heartbreak for the hosts. After Italy hit two off the post in the first extra period, and they got closer and closer to penalties, they had to think that it was to be their day. Then to go out to 2 goals in the last 120 seconds on home soil must be absolutely heartbreaking. They battled valiantly and overall had a wonderful run in the tournament where they overachieved and inspired a nation. You could see that they definitely missed Frings today - they did not get forward nearly as much as they did in all of their earlier matches, and although Kehl did well as a replacement, not having Frings in combination with Ballack being ineffective yet again really hurt Germany in midfield.

Mats was their man of the match - he kept them in it with world class play. And the two goals were absolutely unsaveable and not at all his fault. In the entire tournament he allowed 4 goals: the two today which were absolutely unsaveable, and the 2 Wanchope breakaways in the opening match in which he had no chance. He was arguably Germany's best player and he rewarded Klinsmann's faith in picking him over Kahn. On the negative side, Ballack once again had a disappointing game where he largely did nothing. He did not live up to the hype at all during the entire tournament and Germany went as far as they did largely on the efforts of others (Klose, Podolski, Frings, Odonkor, Mats) not their marquee player. And a word on Odonkor - that dude had a great tournament. He reminds me of Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson off the bench for the Detroit Pistons in the 1980s - a dynamic bundle of energy who immediately changes the game. He has likely played himself onto a big club, and I will be suprised if a major European club do not sign him in the next month before the club season starts up again.

Mats: a new German national goalkeeping hero,
and deservedly so

Congratulatins to Italy. They continue their hoodoo over Germany, and are now 7-0 against them in major competitions, and they did it right at the death and avoiding their nemesis of the penalty shootout. They beat Germany in Germany, in Dortmund no less, where Germany had never lost a match. As much as I bitched about their antics today, credit to them - you can't say that they didn't deserve to win. Buffon was amazing again, and they still have not conceded a goal to an opposing team. With Cech, Buffon and Mats are probably the 3 best keepers on the planet at the moment.

Both goals were even more "bellissima!" than her.

Their two goals were things of absolute beauty, which brings me back to my extreme conflict with them: I cannot stand all of the whining, diving, simulation, and bullshit, but at the same time you can't help but admire their skill when they choose to actually play soccer. Today was Italy in a nutshell: tons of shameful simulation, whining, and the rest, and then some absolutely beautiful goals that you cannot help but admire. Once again, like they always seem to do, they found a way to win as long as they manage to avoid penalties.

So we are either going to have a Italy-France final, which would be a classic rematch of the Euro 2000 final, which is one of the best matches I have ever seen, or an Italy-Portugal final where you will see more diving than the Summer Olympics.


Orson Swindle said...

Die, Italy. Die.

Nicole said...


Stupid facist whining, diving, complaining bastards.

moin said...

As opposed to Germany, who are stupid facist attacking, winning, efficient bastards. :)

So much to love about this matchup, I'm just gonna sit back and enjoy.

Oh, Kanu, Calderon has been confirmed RM president and has re-iterated that he'll bring in Capello, Cesc, Kaka, and Robben. Um, we'll see I suppose.

moin said...

Oh, he's already delievered Capello.


There are no loyalties in football anymore.

Kanu said...

Interesting Moin. Also - way back you asked me what I thought about the whole Arsenal-Beveren thing, and I said I needed more infor to come out but that it sounded like a setup job to get David Dein voted off the FA board, as the election was the next day. As it turned out, the Newsnight producer was a big Spurs fan and that is exactly what it was all about. LAst week FIFA cleared Arsnenal of any wrongdoing whatsoever:


Orson Swindle said...

104 minutes, and Italy's still despicable.

Orson Swindle said...

If it's a Portugal/Italy final...there is no God.

A7 said...

2 goals final minute. Somebody got tired. Buffon is a wall. Grosso's goal was a golaso and a half. Piero's was pure touch. Keep whining about Italy but they put it in the back of the net. That's all that matters. Hate em or Love em they got it done. Go Azzurri!

moin said...

Or maybe it's just God making it easier for us to pull for France come Final time? Because Germany had that cinderella thing going as well.

Anyways, GREAT match, exihilarating finish. Italy was not that despicable this match, thanks to a fair ref, but Totti still managed to annoy everyone around.

Nice to see the German fans stick around and applaud the players and the players respond in kind.

Kanu said...

Congrats A7 - as I told you the other day, I thought that they would find a way to get it done as long as they could avoid penalties, which is exactly what they did.

A7 said...

You were right on. Prognosticator of Prognosticators. The possibility of Italy and France may make more for quite the Sunday in Dolores park. Looking forward to it. Good luck tomorrow. Oh and Mats gets RESPEK he has continued to be the dynamo goalkeeper that both Arsenal and Germany have needed and he gets my tip of the hat.

DC Trojan said...

I must be about the only one reading this blog who wasn't supporting Germany; for once the Italians were attacking rather than holding the ball and waiting for something to happen. And for whatever diving etc., that the Italians did, the Germans were plainly spending most of their time trying to provoke Gattuso and Totti -- I lost count of the times that I saw Ballack kicking Gattuso around the pitch, and Borowski's yellow came after he purely by chance smashed into Totti's left leg...

But then I hate the Germans. Klinsmann did a hell of a job and he almost broke them of their boring bloody football -- not least by playing two Poles and Ghanaians (Odonkor is the man) -- but not enough that I could ever actually support them.

Except against England.

Doug said...

Soccer n00b checking in here -- I watched the Italy-Germany match yesterday afternoon (on Univision, of course) and I gotta say that, even as an avowed non-soccer-fan, that was one of the most thrilling freaking sporting events I've ever seen. And that first goal by Grosso . . . I don't know what kind of physical/mental talent it takes to make a ball hook that perfectly into the goal, but holy shit. Based on that alone, I think I'm starting to understand why this stuff has so much appeal to 5 billion people, give or take.

And yeah, I was rooting for Italy -- if all the Eastern European teams are out, then I can at least be happy that we're assured an all-Catholic final.