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?"
"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.