Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Semifinals: Day 23 Random Thoughts /
Open Thread

These two teams last played in the semifinal of Euro 2000, where France earned a penalty in the 119th minute which Zidane promptly buried to win the match 2-1. Portugal will feel like this is an opportunity to get revenge for that heartbreaking loss. After crashing out of World Cup 2002, Portugal made it all the way to the finals of Euro 2004 on their home soil, where they lost to Greece for the 2nd time in that competition. So they have now been very close a few times and may very well feel like they are a team of destiny that is ready to take the next step. Portugal are in their 2nd World Cup semifinal (1966), and are looking to become only the 12th nation on planet earth to have appeared in a World Cup final. France are in their 4th World Cup semifinal; they lost at this stage in 1982 (to Germany on penalties, of course) and again in 1986 (Germany again, this time 0-2), while in 1998 they came from behind to beat Croatia on two Thuram goals en route to winning their first World Cup.

POR: Are these the "heroes of the sea" from
the title of the Portugese national anthem?

Each team has a true maestro arriving at the end of his international career: Portugal's Luis Figo and France's Zidane Zidane. Figo was voted European Player of the Year in 2000 and World Player of The Year in 2001. Zidane was voted European Player of the Year in 1998 and World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000, and 2003. Like Zidane and Ronaldo, Zizou and Figo were "galatico" teammates for a few years at Real Madrid, before Figo moved on to Inter Milan last year. These two will get all the attention, and media coverage, and certainly it will be interesting to watch the two aging masters on the field together for the final time.

The 2 legends exchange greetings pre-match.

That being said, the midfield battle that will be more instrumental in deciding the match will be between French colossus Patrick Vieira and Portugese playmaker Deco. Watch the match to see who wins this battle: will Paddy boss the midfield again and prevent Deco from being an effective quarterback who sets the offensive table with his passing and vision, or Deco is able to do his thing and not get bossed by PV4?

Les Blues, pictured here as Les Blancs.

For all the attention that France's offensive prowess received since the Brasil match, it is their defense which has been the key to their success, just like in their 1998 World Cup run. Thuram and Gallas are playing like thirtysomething warriors, and with Vieira in front of them bossing things they have been amazingly effective - they have not conceded a goal in 2 matches against perhaps the two best offensive teams in the tournament, Spain and Brasil (Spain's goal was a converted penalty kick not a goal from "open play" or even a free kick). That being said, Barthez is always a disaster waiting to happen, and although he is known for saving penalties and making some world class saves, he often has a serious blunder from time to time as well.

I am a little worried about France's mindset, as all of a sudden they have gone from flying under the radar to being hailed at the World Cup winners-to-be by the media. But I think that they are such a veteran squad that have been through all of the hype before that they will be very much focused on the task at hand.

No disrespect to Le Tour de France,
but today is all about the maillot bleu.

On a yellow card: For Portugal, Deco is back from card accumulation suspension, but Petit will miss this match for the same reason. Maniche, Figo, Ricardo, Valente, and Carvalho are all on a yellow and with another will miss the final (or 3rd place match). For France Vieira, Ribery, Zidane, Thuram, Sagnol, and Saha are all on a yellow, so they would miss the final (or 3rd place match) by picking up one more.

Portugal must think that this is their time, while France must be supremely confident after dispatching both Spain and Brasil. This one has a much better chance to be a higher scoring affair. I hope that the talented Portugese team stick to playing soccer and tone it down with the diving and flopping around, especially C Ronaldo, who apparently is persona non grata in Manchester right about now.

Almost makes me want to pull for Portugal.

So what happens? I'll go with 2-1 France, with Vieira and Henry scoring for Les Blues and either a stunning, unsavable Portugal goal or a complete blunder by Barthez. Whomever wins this match will have my full support against Italy in the final.

Final pregame thoughts:
Scolari has won 12 World Cup matches in a row: 7 with Brasil in 2002, 5 this year

Scolari is straight-up Gene Hackman, to go along with Dean Cain (Deco) and hippy Padraig Harrington (Maniche).

Ribery is Tom Greene.

Allez Les Bleus, and Come On You Gunners!

(well, technically, Gunner).

32nd min.: PENAL! Henry makes some sweet moves to beat Carvalho in the box, and Carvalho trips him. Replays confirm that he was in fact tripped and did not dive.

33rd min.: Zidane buries it to his left, where he always shoots. Ricardo guesses correctly because he knows that Zizou always goes left, but the shot is unsaveable. 1-0 au Les Blues.

Ricardo knows it's going left; EVERYONE knows it's going left,
but he still can't save it because it's perfect.

36th min.: An absolutely world class dive by C Ronaldo in the box trying to earn a penalty. Up to this point he was already being roundly booed every time he touched the ball, which is funny since all of the England fans have gone home or are still passed out. Forget persona non grata in England, has CR17 become persona non grata of world football?

Half Time. Portugal 0-1 France. A very entertaining first half, and the goal will only open up the game even more. Can't bitch much about the penalty - Henry was clearly tripped, and as many matches of his as I have seen, I would say there was an 90% chance that he would have scored his point blank shot if he had been able to jump over Carvalho's leg. Hopefully France can keep it up and hold on in the 2nd half. If they do, I just hope that Vieira or Zidane don't pick up a silly yellow card, becasue doing so would mean that they would miss the final through suspension, and France cannot really afford to miss either of these two, especially Vieira.

Full Time.

Portugal 0-1 France.

See you on Sunday, love.

France came out and clearly tried to get a quick goal to kill the game. Henry came aganozingly close to doing just that, but Ricardo got his arm on it and the ball spun under and behind him and rolled about 2 feet wide of the post. After that the match kind of tensed up for about 15 minutes, and the match felt like the opposite of 3 of the 4 quarterfinals and yesterday's semifinal, which were all tense 0-0s in the 1st half and then opened up in the 2nd. This match was like the bizarro version of those for a while. Then it turned into the classic 1-0 match: Portugal, down a goal, was forced to really attack, and France tried to absorb their pressure and hit them on the counterattack. Portugal created some good chances but couldn't put any away. Their best chance came courtesy of Fabian Barthez, who served a would-be goal up on a platter when, instead of simply catching a C Ronaldo free kick, he instead decided to serve it up Karch Kiraly style. Lucky for him, Figo was not able to spike it home with his head, and instead headed over with a good portion of the goal at his mercy. Disaster averted from the French disaster waiting to happen.

I wish I was there to give her a big hug,
after I took off my France jersey of course.

Portugal also did some more world class diving in the box and whining to the referee that outdid Italy yesterday. C Ronaldo, not satisfied with his outrageous dive in the box int he first half from no contact whatsoever, did the same thing again, and the whole team and bench creamed at the referee as if he ahd been shot. Then, when Miguel went down in a heap on his own (replays confirmed that he went down akwardly injuring himself from no contact), more protestations that he must have been mauled. Finally substitute Postiga fell down in a heap in the box under no contact: rinse and repeat. It was completely shameful. Portugal had more great chances in the last 10 minutes, and a great one at the death, except that dude was clearly offsides and was rightly called so.

By the by: credit where credit is due - the referee had an excellent match today. He got the penalty call correct, didn't go card crazy, and he didn't fall for any of the outrageous Portugese dives in the box.

France did what they needed to do, and they are through to the final. Saha picked up a yellow card and will be suspended for the final, which isn't the worst thing in the world for France because Domenech hasn't been using him much at all (although I still think France would be at their best in a 4-4-2 with Henry & Saha up front and a midfield of Ribery, Vieira, Zidane, and Maladou with Makelele dropped). Carvalho picked up a 2nd card for Portugal and will miss the 3rd place match on Saturday.

PV4 didn't quite boss the match, but he did boss Deco.

Vieira didn't quite boss the match like he did the previous four, but he did pretty much negate Deco and stifle his playmaking abilities. Deco was largely absent, and much of that was down to PV4. Portugal's most dangerous player was C Roanldo, who was very active - shame about the diving though. Figo didn't really do much, and was lucky not to be carded. He kicked Adibigal in the face and had some other hard challenges. He would have been booked except that they ref knew that he was on a yellow and the last thing FIFA wanted was a potential final for Portugal without the 2nd greatest player in the nation's history participating (Eusebio being the greatest). Zidane showed flashes of brilliance once again, and Ribery played well although he was not a constant threat. Henry made the goal that Zizou converted, and had their best chance of the 2nd half as well. He was intermittently dangerous, but did fairly well considering playing as a target man in a 4-5-1 is very unnatural for him.

Forgot to mention: Thuram played an absolute blinder in the back for France today and was definitely their man of the match. An absolute colossus. Additionally, he is without question the most badass man on the planet named Lilian.

Most badass dude named Lilian. Ever.

So there it is. Portugal are out and France are through to the final to play Italy for the whole ball of wax. More on that to come.

Au revoir, Portugal.


DC Trojan said...

Allez les Bleus. All else aside, France - Italy is the finals is a better grudge match, and would have to produce better football.

moin said...

Yeah, France and Italy would be loads of fun:

Not to mention the Zidane going out on top factor would be exponentially cooler than anything the Portugal side can muster.

Oh, and Kanu, fun article about Cesc and Real Madrid for you to read.,,1812701,00.html

Like I said, don't be surprised.

A7 said...

I love it Kanu! It's
1. Root for France
2. Root for whoever plays Italy.

I also like that Italy almost played card free footy yesterday. Plenty of people for the final and Kramer didn't kill anyone. Good luck to your boys. I'm with DC Trojan and Moin. Italy and France makes for the better grudge match.

Kanu said...


I saw that yesterday. I still think it is BS agent-talk, and that Wenger will not sell him, but you never know.

Another interesting angle is that with the possibility of a Juve and even Milan fire sale, maybe they will let him go for a ton load of money and then use it to shop for a replacement at the Juve & Milan garage sales. Would Wenger bring PV4 back on the cheap for 1-2 years until he can find another replacement? Would PV4 come back? If Juve are relegated (I'll believe it when I see it - don't think it will happen), could PV4 end up at ManU, who need a holding midfielder? Would he go there just to stick it ot Dein? Most of the ManU players he dislikes are gone, and RVN is on the way out. It sure will be fascinating to see how it all shakes out.

A7 - Pretty much, bet then you already knew that.

moin said...

Yeah, I agree with your analysis. I'll believe it when I see it as well.

Kanu said...


My prediction is that they will be stripped of their last 2 titles but not relegated, and Milan will be fined, and they will all be on super double secret probation for like 5 years.

All of which is a glorified slap on the wrist.

There is even talk in the Italian press that if Italy win the World Cup then blanket Amnesty should be given because anything else would be pissing on the national parade. Wouldn't suprise me if that happened either.

Kanu said...

Although, this can't help Juve too much:

Former Juve chief executive Antonio Giraudo said at the corruption trial: "All kinds of things go on in football: people give Rolexes to referees, people fix the accounts. What I'm saying is that this is an environment in which you have to protect yourself."

moin said...

Hah, one thing that I find hard to believe is that Juventus is supposedly somehow less corrupt than AC Milan. Seriously? AC Milan, whose Chairman was the Prime Minister and the official Head of the Italian FA, whose Vice-Chairman was the acting Head of the Italian FA?

Solon said...

Moin, I'm curious regarding your attitude toward something as a Real Madrid fan. I'm not sure if there's any way to make it sound neutral (I swear, though, my attitude is), so I just want to make clear that I am not being a hater, I really just want your honest opinion.

How does it feel to be the fan of a club where Presidents run and simply state as a matter of course that they are going to take superstar players from other clubs?

I mean, obviously in football bigger clubs always feed on the smaller clubs and force moves (e.g.,just about every great player in France and Holland will eventually go to a 'bigger' country, and just about every great player at Bolton or Betis will go to a 'bigger' club--with rare exceptions, such as Maradona at Napoli)--but with Real Madrid, it's on a much different level, at least recently, with all of the 'Galacticos.' I don't know, but that has to be unprecedented--every year, claiming to want a mega-superstar, and then getting him. Obviously, the player has to want to come to the club; but, as you have said, one way or another Real tends to get their man.

Obviously, what Real is doing is not on the order of a Chelsea--and Barcelona, to a large extent, does the same thing to a slightly lesser extent--but how does it affect your ability to enjoy their success, if at all?

moin said...

Solon, no need to be so tactful, I'm well aware of how Real Madrid looks/sounds to fans of other clubs, especially one whose players are being tapped up through the media by Real Madrid.

Truth be told, I don't like it. It feels shady/dirty. It's good to daydream about having certain players on your team (or, as I do, buy them in Football Manager), but to do it as a matter of course as an election promise just doesn't feel right.

It didn't used to be this way. Of course, it all started when Perez promised the unlikest of all signings: Figo, the heart and soul of back-to-back La Liga champions, in order to beat Sanz, a man who guided RM to 2 EuroCups, the first since 1966. But Perez certainly didn't go out to the press to court Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham, and Ronaldinho. Indeed, Perez's usual tactics were the exact opposite, where he denies it repeatedly to the press and negotiate in open secrecy. (It became a running joke amongst everyone that whenever Perez denies interest in a player out of nowhere, it's a certain sign that player is coming to RM.) The only time such public "tapping up", as they say, occurs are during campaign times. It happened last election when Sanz tried to unseat Perez by promising the entire Czech attack + the Greek defense + Maniche (remember, this is right after Euro2004).

There's a funny story going around about how Perez courted Zidane. It was during a formal dinner (I think it was during the dinner to celebrate another Ballon d'Or for Zidane). Perez sat at one end of this long table and Zidane the other. Perez proceed to scribble: "Do you want to play for Real Madrid?" on a napkin and passed it down the table and after a while, the napkin returned with simply "Yes" written on it. It's as if we are back in middle school again.

But you must realize one thing about Real Madrid is that those "big name" players, Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham, and Ronaldinho (who remember, preferred RM but he didn't want to be loaned back to PSG for one more year) were all somewhat disatisfied with their clubs and was looking for other options when Real Madrid stepped in. Zidane felt stifled at Juventus, Ronaldo was unhappy with Cuper and the Italian style, Figo was frustrated by Barca's unwillingness to commit to him with a long term contract, and Beckham felt he needed to move to develop, and Ronaldinho was dis-illusioned at PSG.

Personally, I don't mind taking superstars (who would?). What I don't like is the lack of attention paid to up-and-coming stars/role players within Real Madrid's own system. The bulk of the squads that won the Eurocups were of those type: Raul, Morientes, Hierro, Ivan Helguera, Ivan Campo (Bolton legend), Sanchis, Karanka (a Baasque), Redondo, Savio, Panucci, Guti, etc. Those are guys that the present Real Madrid wouldn't even think about giving a chance to, that's gotta change in order for any type of sustained success to come.

moin said...

Now that I'm re-reading what I posted, I think I should make a point more clear. Real Madrid really isn't THAT effective at "prying lose" superstars. They just happen to be the best at identifying a superstar that seems to be weighing his options and then pouncing on him and the club with a huge overture. As attractive as Real Madrid maybe, they can't create dis-illusioned superstars where there aren't any. Look at some recent signings: Robinho, Baptista, Sergio Ramos, Cicinho, Graveson, Woodgate. No superstars there. The last superstar that Real was involved with was Vieira, but you would know better than me that he was looking to move as much as Real Madrid wanted him, if not more. And he ended up going to Juventus anyways, so Real Madrid missed out on him despite offering much more to Arsenal.

Solon said...

Thanks for taking it in the right spirit, Moin.

Good point on the status of each of the Galacticos before their signing. And, of course, you are spot on.

And, a minor point--while I really can't understand the appeal of Graveson or Woodgate, both Robinho and Baptista were supposed to be the 'next big thing'--didn't each go for around 20 mil pounds? And, although neither Robinho or Baptista has panned out as of yet, they are both young.

You could say the same thing (RE the next big thing) about Anelka--the sale of whom, of course, actually turned out to be a big coup for Arsenal.

The more I think about it, actually, the Robinhos/Baptistas/Anelkas would bother me more than the Galacticos--having the ability to prise all of the young phenoms from their teams for 20 million pounds at age 21 (who else can do that, besides Chelsea?) and waiting for one to become the next Maradona is a lot more troubling than buying up a bunch of 30 year olds in the twilight of their careers (Arsenal, of course, need to poach their young talent from other clubs in questionable fashion).

The truth is I don't know how I'd feel if the shoe were on the other foot. It's easy to be principled and view what other teams do as somehow 'tainted,' but given that teams like Ajax amd Dynamo Kiev have won the CL (albeit in a different era), at least with the CL you have to assume that it's not so skewed in favor of the big teams that there aren't a lot of clubs that can win it.

(Certainly, it's a different matter with the league--over the course of 38 (or 34) games, there's a MASSIVE advantage to the deepest teams.)

moin said...

Thanks Solon.

Woodgate was brought in because Perez had promised a defensive signing during his elections. When not injured, Woodgate has proven himself to be a class player at RM. Graveson was bought in January because RM was desperate for a non-cup-tied DM to cover for its woeful defense. Baptista isn't really the next big thing, he's about the same age as Adriano, I believe. Robinho, on the other hand, could definitely be the next big thing. But then again, not one among them are big stars.

They are the type of players bigger clubs, in my opinion, should buy, especially from smaller clubs. Let's face it, players at the smaller clubs are always looking for a move to a larger club. Woodgate, Graveson, Robinho, and Baptista would have each jumped at the chance to move to Arsenal as much as Real Madrid, it probably made very little difference to them, as long as it was "bigger".

Minor point, Dynamo Kyiv never won the CL. Red Star Belgrade, on the other hand, has (with players that other Yugoslav clubs were forced to sell for cheap and with results accomplished via intimidation from actual war criminals).

moin said...

Zidane, ice water in his veins man, ice water.

Can you imagine the repurcussions if France somehow secure a place in the Finals and then Larrionda (hey, remember him? Mastroeni does!) shows Zidane a yellow?

Zidane is fast approaching Brett Favre territory.

A7 said...

Watched the whole thing on slingbox during 4 hour meeting. Still in said meeting. Haven't retained one word from meeting. Oh well. Congrats Kanu. It's gonna be intense this Sunday.

moin said...

If France wins Sunday and Zidane plays a part in that, will history view him as a better player than Maradona? Something to ponder, at least. He's at least equaled Maradona on the World Cup stage. Certainly this is a legitimate discussion now.

Kanu said...

Funny, Moin. I raised this very question to Solon after France beat Brasil, IF ZZ played blinders today and again on Sunday. I have some interesting back & forth emails that I hope to post tomorrow.

A7 - thanks man. I'm looking forward to watching the final with you on Sunday. And as much as I bitch about Italy diving, I don't even think they could compete with Ronaldo, Postiga, & Co. today.

Moin said...

Well, it is something to ponder. Since you can make the case that Zidane, along with Vieira, Ribery, and Henry, willed France to the final this time around. And he certainly won it for France in 1998, if he wasn't that involved in actually getting to the finals that time around.

Oh, and in a bit of unrelated news, I present to you, the pot calling the kettle black:

Kanu said...

Thanks Moin.

You just made my day even more.

As the Arsenal fans sing to Chel$ea:

"You're just Tottenham with money!"

I will soon release a statement on official FC Kanu letterhead: "My libero Moin is not for sale at ANY price."

moin said...

Dropping Makalele against the Italians would be a mistake of monumental proportions. The one battle that the French cannot afford to lose to the Italians is the control for the center of the pitch. Italy will have Gattuso and Perrota to mark out Zidane and France needs to have Makalele and Vieira work in tandem to snuff out Pirlo. If France starts with a 4-4-2, then too much will be asked of Vieira (who will basically be playing defense against Totti and Pirlo all the time), not to mention all of the service to the strikers will be snuffed out, thereby negating any attacking advantage that France might have gained by bringing on an extra striker.

Against some teams, France could definitely go to a 4-4-2 (Spain, Brazil comes to mind), but not against a possession/mid-field play-making squad like Italy.

Kanu said...

Yes, thanks for correcting my mistake as it applies to Italy, My suggestion is what I have been hoping Domenech would do from the beginning, but you are absolutely correct in you analysis, as this match will be won or lost in central midfield (but then aren't most all?).

I'll write more on this later, but with these two stellar defenses I think the final may very well be a 0-0 and penalties or a 1-0, and Italy have a MASSIVE advantage at goalkeeper. Hard to see Buffon gifting a goal, whereas every time Barthez has to touch it you feel it is a distinct possibility.