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Match Report: Portugal 2-3 Germany

UEFA Euro 2008

Quarter-Final

Basel

Att: 42,000

Portugal 2-3 Germany

A tired maxim, but an important one: never write off the Germans. Once again, they prove that when it comes to clinical finishing and efficient, sharp use of possession, they are still the kaisers. After two poor performances, the Germans once again look like the favourites they were labelled as before the tournament.

Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose looked accomplished and dangerous alongside one another; Michael Ballack, improving more with every game and surely an early candidate for player of the tournament, controlled the centre of midfield with a delightful arrogance.

For Portugal, it’s a typical outcome: mercurial, thrilling and disgustingly talented, but wasteful and disorganised. It’s a disappointing exeunt from international football for Luis Felipe Scolari, who will now make the transition to Chelsea where many of his Portuguese stars, and Ballack, now take residence.

Portugal started off the better side, with Simão’s creativity going forward and Bosingwa’s pace proving troublesome on the right-hand side against Germany’s Philipp Lahm. If it weren’t for an ineffective Nuno Gomes, Portugal should have been a goal up after eleven minutes, after a teasing low ball from Bosingwa failed to be capitalised upon. Moments later, João Moutinho spurned a sitter in front of goal from a Bosingwa corner.

Then, after twenty-two minutes, a move of absolute excellence, with Ballack at its centre.

Klose passed to Ballack, and then a succession of one-touch passes between Ballack and Podolski resulted in a beautifully weighted ball from Podolski, and an unmarked Bastian Schweinsteiger waiting in the eight-yard area. A goal of the highest quality, and certainly up there with the two fine counter-attacking goals scored by Holland against the Azzurri.

Four minutes later, and the Germans were two up thanks to some woeful Portuguese defending. With Ricardo Carvalho nowhere to be seen, Klose rose and headed in unmarked, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo wondering who was meant to be marking the 2006 World Cup Golden Boot winner.

By now, Germany were in complete control of the midfield; but Portugal still threatened when going forward, and Ronaldo managed to put his side back in the game before half-time with his cross-angle run into the area and eventual shot rebounding for Nuno Gomes to finish. Ronaldo then almost equalised for Portugal minutes later, with a shot that just crept past Jens Lehmann’s left-post.

Portugal came out the better side after half-time, with Ronaldo becoming more of a threat. With a questionable spot of gamesmanship by Arne Friedrich, in which he intentionally stood on Ronaldo’s foot after a strong challenge, it was clear to see the threat he was now beginning to pose.

But that was wiped away thanks to some erratic goalkeeping by Ricardo. Ballack, who looked to have pushed his club team-mate Paulo Ferriera to gain an advantage, was there to header in from a Schweinsteiger free-kick that Ricardo failed to deal with.

Scolari later threw on Nani, who consistently threw possession away with thirty-yard efforts and misguided passes — apart from the one moment he actually used his eyes. With Helder Postiga also thrown on, Nani picked him out perfectly with three minutes remaining.

Yet by now, it was too late. Portugal and the world now awaits the talk of where Ronaldo will end up to re-emerge in earnest; while Germany expects once again, with Ballack — perhaps the best leader the Germans have had since a circa. Italia ’90 Lothar Matthaus — only growing in confidence.

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Filed under cristiano ronaldo, Football, germany, Match Report, michael ballack, portugal, Soccer, Sport, UEFA, uefa euro 2008

Match Report: Italy 2-0 France

UEFA Euro 2008

Group Stage: Group C

Zurich

Att: 25,000

Italy 20 France

Ten years’ ago this month, France were World Champions. Two years’ ago, France almost became World Champions once again. But after this defeat against an Italian side that is finally showing some promise, and to refer to Domenech’s much-discussed star-gazing, France is in the midst of a supernova.

Not only is this supernova illustrated by France’s early departure, but also in the players that signify this so-called golden era. Thierry Henry is worryingly short of any threat compared to his Arsenal days; Nicolas Anelka was an irrelevance, coming on as a substitute when Domenech ran out of ideas; Lilian Thuram refused to play because of a supposed bout of nerves; and William Gallas was ineffective and reverting to his volatile state, at one point on the verge of tears.

France’s challenge effectively ended after eight minutes when Franck Ribery, the man who is constantly referred to as the next Zidane — the link between the golden-era and the new, uncertain one — went off with an injured Achilles. The pain etched on his face was likely mimicked by every French man.

Within twenty minutes, Luca Toni could have single-handedly embarrassed the French; instead, it was more the opposite. Opportunities provided by Simone Perrotta and Andrea Pirlo on several occasions weren’t taken, and Toni’s indifferent form will be a real worry for Roberto Donadoni. Toni is in danger of becoming Italy’s equivalent to Andrew Cole: lethal at domestic level, unconvincing at international level.

Still, Toni’s persistence managed to come through after twenty-five minutes thanks to some French assistance in the form of Eric Abidal. After three attempts in getting the ball, Abidal brings Toni down in the penalty area, and France are a goal and a man down thanks to a superior Andrea Pirlo penalty. It was all either side deserved.

The unfortunate Samir Nasri, a transfer target for Arsene Wenger and brought on to replace the injured Ribery, was then taken off after a mere fifteen minutes in a desperate attempt from Domenech to bring some stability to his unstable back four. Yet it also shows how at odds the French were as a whole — needing a win, yet bringing off a talented, attacking player.

Karim Benzema was the stand out player for the French and when going forward, gave a still uncertain Italian defence something to handle. Benzema drew players towards him and left gaps that Henry seldom exploited; and when the French came out for the second half, he spurred the side on which almost caught the lackadaisical Italians who defended dangerously deep on several occasions.

Benzema’s efforts, however, would prove insignificant when on sixty-two minutes, Henry made his only noteworthy contribution. A Daniele de Rossi free-kick deflected goalward off Henry’s flailing left-foot, leaving Gregory Coupet with no chance.

It was only after de Rossi’s strike that Domenech decided to switch to three attackers and eventually bring on Anelka — the lack of any verve or enthusiasm, Benzema aside, was stunning. Indeed, Benzema almost gave the French some hope with a finely struck curling effort that required the best from Gianluigi Buffon.

The Italians’ tournament may have finally begun, and it would be foolish to dismiss them. But with Gennardo Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo suspended for their quarter-final against a ruthless Spanish side, they’re up against it. Even so, these are the Italians.

For France, who reportedly have Didier Deschamps waiting to take over from Domenech, they have a huge black hole to fill (enough of the astronomy terms now…).

David.

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Filed under Football, France, Italy, Soccer, UEFA, uefa euro 2008