Sunday, July 9, 2006

World Cup Final: Random Thoughts /
Open Thread

I'm off to Dolores Park in SF this morning, where they are showing the match on a giant TV screen. Should be fun, especially since I am going with a group that will include my good friend A7, a proud Italian-American and fan of the Azzurri. We'll both be rocking blue jerseys but that is where the similarities will end: his will be Puma and have 3 stars (1934, 1938, 1982) while mine will be Adidas and have 1 star (1998). By the end of the match one of our jerseys will be obsolete. So no liveblogging today; I'll write up my comments tonight, probably after I watch the replay on Telefutura. Enjoy the match and Allez Les Bleus!

These two teams have a considerable soccer history with one another. The last two meetings were perhaps the most famous: in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinal these two played a scoreless 120 minutes before France knocked Italy out on penalty kicks. The last time they met was the final of Euro 2000, which was one of the best international matches of the last decade and maybe the best international match I have ever seen. Italy went up 1-0 on a beautiful goal, dominated much of the match, and should have been up 2-0 or 3-0 but missed a few great chances. At the end of the match, 3 minutes of extra time were added on. Literally in the final 20 seconds of extra time, Sylvain Wiltord scored a great left footed equalizer, and they went to extra time, where Pires made a great move and crossed for Trezeguet who volleyed home a left footed golden goal (sudden death rule that is no longer used) to turn certain defeat into a European Chamionship. This spawned perhaps the greatest sports taunt/joke I have ever heard, told to me 3rd hand from (originally) a Parisien:

"How do you put the cork back into a champagne bottle?"

"Dunno. How?"

"Ask the Italians."

Excellent video highlights of the match here and here.

Many of the same players today, so France will have the confidence from that match while Italy will see today as an opportunity to get revenge for the one that got away.

Zidane's last match, which you will hear ad nauseum I'm sure. And while he played the best match of any player in the tournament against Brasil in the quarterfinal, it is Vieira and Thuram who have been the consistent rocks of the team throughout the tournament, with Zidane and Henry (and Ribery too) intermittently showing their flashes of brilliance.

France is really damn good.

You know I'm no fan of Italy, but I must praise them for a few things. First, they haven't played too much traditional catennacio defend at all costs. I have especially been suprised at how much their fullbackks have gone forward, especially Grosso and Zambrotta, who have been imitating Cafu, Roberto Carlos, or Ashley Cole at times. Also, the traditional Italian stereotype is defend at all costs and then score on the counterattack with 1 to 3 main threats. Well in this World Cup it is very impressive that they have had 10 different players score a goal, which is an all time WC record. So 11 goals scored by 10 different players, and 3 different defenders scoring is definitely not the traditional Italian soccer template.

So is Italy.

These are the two best defensive teams in the tournament. Italy still have not conceded a goal to another team. Through 6 matches the only goal they gave up was an own goal in the US match. France have been almost as great. They have conceded 2 goals through 6 matches: 1 penalty kick against Spain, and a complete howler by mistake-prone Barthez which gifted a goal to South Korea. Both defenses have been anchored by respective rocks Cannavaro for Italy and Thuram for France.

The midfields are both great. Interesting battles will be Vieira trying to shut down Italy's offensive midfielders (Totti, Pirlo) and Gattuso trying to shut down France's offensice midfielders (Zidane, Ribery) .

Up front will be Thierry Henry and Luca Toni. Henry was the top goalscorer again last year in the Premiership, while Toni was the top goalscorer in Italy's Serie A and I believe all of Europe as well (I think Henry might have been 2nd in Europe).

All three of the aforementioned aspects (defense, midfield, strikers) are pretty damn even. That brings us to goalkeepers, where Italy have a massive advantage. Italy's Buffon is a rock, and I rate him as one of the 3 best keepers in the tournament and the world right now (Cech, Mats). France's Barthez is prone to two things: occasional world class saves (and a penchant for saving penalties) as well as occasional blunders. He also has a terrible habit of punching or blocking the ball when he could easily catch it (or serving up volleyball sets for opposing strikers). Basically every time the ball goes into him you have the fear that he might have one of his howlers and gift the other team a goal; with Buffon there are no such fears.

Based on the teams being so even except in goal where Italy are way better, I have to say that I would give the advantage to Italy and that in my mind it seems more likely that they will win. However, this is a veteran France team who have won a World Cup and a European Championship, so they are supremely confident in their ability to win this match on the world's biggest stage. They also have in Zidane and Henry two players capable of a moment of magic that can produce a goal, which might be all that is needed to win this game.

"But" is the French word for goal.
Will we see one today?

With these two amazing defenses it is hard to imagine a high scoring game, or even a game with more than one goal. I could totally see the defenses cancelling out the offenses, with the result being a 1-0 match or even a scoreless one that goes to extra time and then penalties.

So what happens? My brain says 1-0 Italy but my heart says 1-0 France with Vieira getting the goal. I'll be rocking my Euro 2000 France jersey at Dolores Park hoping for the latter. Enjoy. Allez Les Bleus! Et Allez Paddy et Titi aussi!

Italy 1-1 France. a.e.t. (PSO 5-3).
Italy are World Champions.

Just finished watching the replay. It's midnight, and I'm exhausted. Thoughts & pics tomorrow by 9 a.m. PST.

Contratulations Azzurri.


David said...

I'll be cheering for France, but I predict an Italian win, either 1-0 or 0-0 on penalties. But I think most neutrals would love to see Zidane go out on top.

By the way, you'll never guess who has committed more fouls than anyone else in this World Cup. See the story here:

Of course, a lot of this is a function of playing more games than anyone else, but still, it is interesting.


nerazzurri said...

I'm guessing there's going to be a lot of hacking, fouling, spitting and cussing in this one. Due to the pressure, I think the ghost of Helenio returns and Italy revert back to their ultra-defensive ways. One-nil to Italy on a counter-attack.

Solon said...

PV4 is being subsituted. This sucks.

I think that today, he's been France's best player. Hell, for the entire tournament, he's been their best player.

Solon said...

Trezeguet...fucking useless.

France probably shaded it today, but Italy probably shaded it as the best team for the entire tournament. In the end, I'd say an Italian win on PKs was probably a fair result.

moin said...

Shocking game, all around.

Zidane's PK, balls of steel. Malouda did dive, but then he had a legit penalty not called in the 2nd half so it works out.

Italy was completely impotent offensively, a surprise. Even when they dominated in the first half, their threat came only from set pieces. Once again taking advantage of Barthez's inability at reading crosses.

Surprisingly, it was Italy who tired in the 2nd half. I expected that from France, not Italy. But Italy stood up to the French assault. As dominant as the French was, they never really was able to create any great chances.

Zidane's headbutt... the biggest shocker of all. It looked like Materrazzi and him were just joking along when Zidane suddenly turned around and just drove into him. So I guess Kramer made a really nasty comment? The last time I remember Zidane really losing it like that was in 1998 against Saudi Arabia when he stumped on a guy who insulted his Algerian heritage. I hope it's nothing that cynical. But, just shocking all around.

But hey, Maradona like huh?

Diarra did a great job replacing Vieira. He wasn't as effective attacking, but defensively, he was up to the task.

Italy winning on PK? Nobody expected that. :D And it was Trezguet who missed the important PK, so I've double redemption for the Italians on that one.

Cannavaro is unquestionably the best player of the tournament. Guess who's coming to Real Madrid? :P

phil said...

Zidane soiled his legacy. The incident in 1998 could be written off as an aberration, but after what he did today he is an asshole. I didn't think anybody could switch me to rooting for Italy, but he did.

It was a shame as a neutural since it was a game where neither team deserved to be champions. Considering that Italy couldn't beat the USA with a man advantage and needed the most obscence call to beat Australia, they can't be judged as deserving. Yes they beat Germany, but one good game does not a great champion make. Likewise, the only great game France had was against Brazil (who looked disapointing all month themselves) and they wouldn't have been more deserving had they taken it. Of course they get the gold star, but these were two teams that didn't deserve it overall.

moin said...

Videos of Materazzi being himself. Some perspective on what kind of guy Zidane headbutted.

Now, some fun.

nico said...

I'm convinced Materazzi had to say some heinous, evil shit to get Zidane to flip out like that.

I wonder if we'll ever really know what was said?

nerazzurri said...

So the video shows Materazzi is an enforcer for Inter. Didn't see anything from him today that predicated that foul from Zidane. I thought it was a dull final to a dull World Cup.

And to paraphrase Kanu... "Au revoir Zidane. Au revoir les bleus. Ne fait pas la porte frapper ton cul."

moin said...

Easy nerazzurri, I'm not defending Zidane here. What he did is inexcusable. But it's not like he did it to a choirboy either. Just trying to set up some semblence of context, that's all.

As for the dull final claim, well, I disagree. I thought it was a very well played final on both ends.

Anon.4 said...

In my opinion I felt the third palce match was much better. If only for the reason that there were no red cards and the it did not go to penalty kicks. I did enjoy the match despite the loss by France and the expulsion of Zidane. But I just do not like the World Cup to be decided by penalty kicks. For some strange reason the penalty shoot out at the end of the Argentina Germany match did not leave me with such a sour taste, but this one did.

Congratulations to Italy on winning the World Cup and also to Germany for being fantastic hosts.

I am hoping to be able to attend the 2010 South Africa.

Great job by Kanu and the other people posting comments and giving insights into the teams that I was not aware of and that increased my enjoyment of each match.

nerazzurri said...

After seeing some of the replay, dull may have been a bit harsh - just a bit heavy on the defensive side. The back four of both teams had a great match. Loved Thuram and Cannavaro. France pressed the attack and played much more attractive football. Totti and Del Piero had the same number of shots as I did. Would have liked to have seen more than 3 shots on goal from Italy. But they did enough to win.

moin said...

Speculations abound as to what Materazzi said to Zidane, as you can see from this angle, it's obvious he was yapping away at Zidane the entire time until Zidane shut him up with a headbutt to the chest.

Some people, notably SOS Racism (based in Paris, surprise), are claiming he called Zidane a "dirty terrorist", which makes some sense because Zidane has always been sensitive and defensive of his heritage. Materazzi has publically denied this.

A Brazilian newspaper hired 2 deaf lip-readers and said that Materazzi said something along the lines of "your sister is a whore." Which doesn't seem any worse than anything else Zidane might have heard on that day.

According to Channel 4 news (in France I think), the French camp has claimed that what Materazzi said was actually "your mother is a whore", which, on the surface didn't seem that bad, except when you accompany that with the claim that Zidane just found out earlier in the day that his mother is seriously ill and in the hospital.

All rumours anyways, but until the official word comes out from Zidane (I'm thinking awkward/emotional press conference), it's what we have.

Anyways, time to have a bit of fun with this, here's MC Hammer's take on the whole situation:

And here's the interactive version: