Sunday, July 09, 2006

World Cup Post #16

3rd/4th playoff wrap + a preview of the final - No surprise as the host rounds off a month long festival in style - Does Lippi have a surprise or two for the final?

THE shackles off, this third place play-off between the hosts and Portugal was a reminder of how football was once played, roughly a month ago.

Whereas the past few weeks - particularly as the stakes have increased- have been dominated by the fearful, win at all costs approach, this match was a throw-back, an open and exciting affair, both teams having a real go.

While it's understandable that the football has become more intense and tight as the month has evolved, it's refreshing to watch a match where the emphasis isn't so much on avoiding errors and protecting the goal, but on creating openings and gambling a bit.

In truth, the Germans have been very positive from the opening game, and while they became a little more pragmatic as the tournament went on, this was as much down to the quality of the opposition as Klinsmann's approach.

This result, built on three second half screamers from Schweinsteiger (one deflected in off Petit), was the Mannschaft's reward for such a positive approach throughout this tournament. For the host nation, which had embraced the world, and belatedly its number one goalkeeper and manager, proving the 'time to make friends' slogan was not simply marketing rhetoric, this was a great way to celebrate the end of a brilliant month.

In truth, it was hardly a surprise the hosts prevailed. The Germans have a reputation for treating every game like a world cup final, while Portugal's manager Scolari admitted he was having troubling motivating his troops for this one.

The reality is that Portugal played their part in an game that ebbed and flowed, and had it not been for a couple of solid blocks from Oliver Kahn, given a farewell start by Klinsmann, it could have been Portugal who finished third.

More indicative of their fortunes was the continued wastefulness in front of goal from Pauleta, given the captains armband as Figo surprisingly started his last game for his country on the bench.

A perfect example of this wastefulness came late in the first half when he was put through by Simao with just the keeper to beat, but he shot too close to Kahn. For once he'd been able to find some space in the opposition box, yet he provided none of the lethalness that saw him top the European qualifiers charts.

The contrast with Nuno Gomes, on late and finishing a wonderful Figo cross with a clinical diving header, highlighted Scolari's blunder in keeping faith with Pauleta at the expense of Gomes.

At the other end though it was the hosts providing the greater cutting edge, Klose working tirelessly to try and increase his lead in the golden boot race, and his young side-kick Podolski living up to the hype and hopes of a nation.

For Klose, a player who was vilified four years ago, accussed on merely heading Germany to the final, this was a complete transformation, a player with a much improved technique on the ground to go with the drive, workrate and will to win, clearly the outstanding striker in the tournament.

Barring an Henry feast tomorrow morning (AEST), Klose will deservedly claim the golden boot, even with only five goals. Such has been this tournament.

This night belonged to Schweinsteiger, dropped from the semi final starting side but back in after injuries to Ballack and Borowski. Twice he cut in from the left onto his favoured right foot, a style semmingly favoured by Germans (witness Littbarski's use of Carney at Sydney last season and his own playing style), blasting past Ricardo.

It seemed the more Portugal gambled for the goal, the more space they left for Germany to exploit, but the truth is it was just great to see both teams going for it, a great endorsement for the play-off.

Tomorrow morning is likely to be a little less open, a combination of protection and calculated attack. Once again it is a major final respresenting two of the best defensive units in the competition, as is the way of the modern game.

Italy and German proved in the first semi that it can still be a recipe for quality football, but the fear is that the likes of Zidane, Totti, Henry and Pirlo, the creative guys, will be overshadowed and denied any room by the likes of Gattuso, Makelele, Cannavaro and Thuram, the nulifiers.

The likelihood is that France will stick with the same 11 that has got them here, but Lippi has been the more daring and adaptable of the managers. His use of Perrotta and Cameronesi high up the pitch to nulify Friedrich and Lahm, with Totti dropping deeper, closer to Pirlo and Gattuso, was a masterstroke.

Against the Socceroos he used Perrotta in a deeper role, next to Gattuso, allowing Pirlo to play higher up the pitch. The width on the left came from Del Piero.

It wouldn't be entirely surprising if he changed his starting 11 from the past two games. Toni has been good - improving - without being great, and Lippi might decide to give him a rest for Gilardino, who did brilliantly off the bench against Germany. He also has the option of using Del Piero or the now available Daniele de Rossi, perhaps as an alternative to Cameronesi.

Lippi may see French left back Eric Abidal as a potential weak-link, thus going at him with a more attacking option than Cameronesi, perhaps Iaquinta, who has been effective in the wide-right role off the bench this tournament.

With so much quality through the middle likely to cancel each other out, one of the most intriguing areas will be out wide, and how Ribery and Malouda deal with the ever-improving Grosso and brilliant Zambrotta.

In terms of tactical surprise, it seems Lippi holds the aces, but if Zidane, Vieira and Henry can get themselves on the ball often enough, they have the quality to breach Buffon's goal for what would be the first goal scored by one of Italy's opponents.

Whatever transpires, we can only wait and hope it's a memorable final.


Blogger Mike Salter said...

Enjoyed the read, thanks! I think with Portugal this morning there was a bit of boy-who-cried-wolf going on too...I thought C.Ronaldo was genuinely fouled in the box (and elsewhere) but with the reputation the Portuguese have gotten for play-acting during this tournament...! Not my favourite ref anyway, Toru Kamikawa, he made an absolute pig's breakfast of the Syd. FC-Deportivo Saprissa game at the WCC.

Agree with your comments about Klose too. I dismissed him as an aerial merchant after the last WC but boy, he's proved me wrong. The way he set up Podolski for those two goals against Sweden was more impressive than any of the goals he himself scored, for me.

Sun. Jul. 09, 10:38:00 pm AEST  

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