Tuesday, July 04, 2006

An All Latin Final

Hey Peeps and anyone else checking in. A special "Hey" goes out to Hazel Mae.

The first World Cup Semi-final saw Italy depose of the host Germans by a score of 2-0; ensuring that with Portugal and France squaring off tomorrow, it will be an all latin final at the big show. I said this morning that Italy would win the game - and they pulled out the horseshoes with two goals in the last two minutes of extra time today. Fabio Grosso scored in the 119th minute, with Alessandro Del Piero sealing the game with a goal in the 120+ minute to break the hearts of German fans (and Azzuri haters) around the world.

Italy was full value for the win today - having watched the replay tonight, it was clearly the case of a German team that didn't have the creativity or flair to beat a packed in Italian defence. The Germans spent most of the evening lofting in crosses from the flanks that the Italians ate up - what did I say at the start of the tournament? Chicks may dig the long ball in baseball - but it won't work at the World Cup; you have to have the speed and ball handling skills to run into the heart of a defence and break it down. The Germans had a great run in this tournament - but they showed today that, when up against a world-class team, they aren't ready for the big time (the Argentina game could be chalked up as much to Argentine fatigue from a long game against Mexico). Still though, a great tournament for a team that wasn't really expected to compete.

On to semi-final number two - the only game that matters.

Portugal vs France
Prognosticators and experts around the world are calling for France to triumph tomorrow - once again, the little team that could is getting no respect. The soccer world has fallen in love with the French after two good games, obviously forgetting that for the better part of the last four years France has done very little. No worries here though, Scolari will foster a seige mentality and have Portugal ready to play. The only concern for Portugal is their physical fitness - having come off 120 gruelling minutes against England, and a very physical 90+ minute game against the Dutch. On the plus side, fresh legs in the form of Deco (one of the world's top playmakers) and Costinha return to the lineup after serving a one game suspension for two yellow cards against the Dutch. Word out of the Portuguese camp is that Ronaldo and Figo are hurting a little bit - rest assured, they will take the field tomorrow.

Going into this game - both teams are fairly evenly matched, with France having an edge in experience and Portugal being the quicker and more skilled team.

Portugal's Ricardo goes into this game with thoughts of his three save performance in penalty kicks against England - once thought to be the weak link on the team, vulnerable to crosses and set pieces, he has picked up his game and been there when his team needed him.

France's Fabien Barthez has not been overly busy in the tournament and has been solid. Like Ricardo, he was thought to be the weak link on France's team - he's been solid.

Advantage - none. While Ricardo was great in the shoot-out against England, neither he nor Barthez has done anything to show a clear advantage over the other.

Both units can be exploited, but to this point in time have been solid.

Portugal's strength is on the outside, with Miguel and Nuno Valente quick enough to keep up with most other teams, and both dangerous when they join the attack - especially Miguel who has looked menacing charging at opposing defences from the right flank. Portugal's weakness on defence is in the middle, particularly with Fernando Meira who is replacing Jorge Andrade (a world-class defender). While Ricardo Carvalho is solid and well-schooled in defending, Meira is a half a step slow and sometimes makes bad decisions on balls played into the box.

France's strength is in the middle - they are big, physical and experienced. France's weakness is on the outside where their fullbacks are a bit slow and, as such, have to play a bit more defensively. William Gallas is prone to brain cramps. Some of the quicker teams like South Korea and Spain proved that France is vulnerable to attacks coming off the flanks. France, meet Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, and Miguel...I'm sure you'll hate them by the end of the game.

Advantage - slight advantage to Portugal. The threat of a little bit of offence from your fullbacks gets you the edge.

Portugal's strength is in their midfield. Figo is playing like more like a man in his late twenties than a man who is going to be 34. Deco returning to the team will be a huge boost and will definitely give Portugal an advantage in controlling and distributing the ball around the field. There are few players in the world like Ronaldo - he hasn't had a great game yet...tomorrow might just be it. Costinha should be solid after a dressing down from Scolari, and Maniche could be the wild card, as he seems to come up big when Portugal needs it most.

France's play will flow through Zidane, who has had a couple of good games as of late. Zidane came into the tournament in a funk, but seems to have snapped out of it. Ribery will provide the threat from the outside.

Advantage - Portugal, they have more options from the outside and feature three players who can break down a defence and create opportunities.

The "Eagle of the Azores", scored in the opener against Angola and has been pretty quiet since. Portugal's all-time international goal scorer is familiar with many of the French players - he plays for Paris St. Germain. He is more of an opportunist than a creator, he needs help if he is going to be a factor.

France's Thierry Henry is widely regarded as one of the top 3 strikers in the world - though he usually disappoints at the international level. He scored the winner against Brazil, so Carvalho and company will have to watch him.

Advantage - France, I don't want to discuss it. I can't stand Henry...especially after his offside goal against Portugal in Euro 2000 - he was offside and took away our shot at the European championship.

Scolari will rally his team together in an "us against the world" mentality. He will likely point to the game in 2000 in which Portugal was robbed against the French - Figo will remember. He has won 12 games in a row at the World Cup and will find a way to exploit France's weaknesses, while defending against his own.

Domenech has put his faith in an older team that has failed to achieve anything of significance in four plus years - he may be going to the well once too often this time.

Advantage - Portugal. A World Cup championship run with Brazil, an appearance in the finals at Euro 2004, and a 19 game unbeaten streak gives you the edge.

I am going to call for a 2-1 Portuguese victory tomorrow. I think Pauleta and Ronaldo score tomorrow - with Deco and Figo having a major impact on the game.

That's about it for tonight gang...have a great one peeps!

Hazel, I hope things are groovy in your world and that you are enjoying a safe and happy Fourth of July.

Song of the Night on Hazelspeeps - the night before a big game, we turn to Amalia

Povo Que Lavas No Rio - Amalia Rodrigues

Peesth Out...Buh Bye!


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