Tuesday, July 04, 2006

And then there were four 

World Cup semis are today and tomorrow. Not since 1982 have all four semifinalist hailed from Europe. We haven't seen a quartet this strong since 1990 (seems that the trend lately was to have at least one shock semifinalist). I like one team remaining (yup, Italy). Here's a little rundown of who is left.

Germany - The hosts are playing out of their heads, lately, definitely surprising the world (including their fans) by making it this far. They still look a bit soft in the back, but their attack has been really sharp thus far. Although, the game against Argentina was pretty much a stalemate. I wonder if the Germans produce the same kind of effort today that they had in the quarterfinals, would they be able to sneak into a penalty shootout? I don't think so.

Italy - The last of the four teams heading into this World Cup that I believed could take it all (Brazil, Holland, Argentina being the other three). They whaled on an overmatched Ukraine in the quarters and that was fairly expected. It also was probably exactly what the Italians needed to inspire confidence in their forwards -- particularly Luca Toni who was bound to break out for a bucket of goals sooner or later. Toni and whoever starts up front with him (probably Gilardino) are going to give the Germans fits in the back. Remember, as recently as March, Italy came into German and walked out with a convincing 4-1 victory. Have the Germans improved that much in so little time? I'm not betting on it. Azzuri on to the final. Remember, Italy have conceded exactly one goal in this entire tournament... it was scored by Cristian Zaccardo, an Italian defender.

Portugal - The other half of this semifinal draw present a dislikable side of cheaters and a dislikable side of fading stars. The cheaters are Portugal. Anyone watching their last two games against Holland and England, surely, would have to agree. That red card handed to Wayne Rooney for accidentally crunching a defender's nuts was a bit much. And let's not get starting on all the slight breezes that blew through the Portuguese hair, causing them to drop to the pitch like a tons of bricks. Anyway, Portugal definitely have the skill to be this far. They were finalists at Euro 2004, after all. But it isn't their skill that delivered them a birth in the semis. I think they'll need to start relying on their performance as soccer players rather than as actors if they're going to advance.

France - It's pretty astonishing that the Frogs are still alive. Collectively, I think this team is over 1,000 years old. But to see them play against Brazil was to understand that they're not finished. Not by a longshot. Zidane & Co. outclassed the Brazilians in every facet of the game, limitiing the attacking chances of the defending champs to a couple weak attempts on goal. France were hardly tested at the back, they controlled the run of play so easily. Zidane had a game of sublime brilliance. Henry's finish on the free kick was clinical. Ribery has to be a shoe-in for first XI of the tournament. Vieira (!) is attacking with confidence. I think the French may just buzz right through Portugal tomorrow.

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