sprechen sie fußball?

And then there were two…here’s my take on the quarterfinals and semifinals which led to this Sunday’s fascinating climax between the Italians and the French.


GERMANY-1 ARGENTINA-1 aet [Germany win 4-2 on penalties] – One memory I will always have from this year’s World Cup will be the sight of German coach Jurgen Klinsmann as his side got their equaliser in this game. As the ball sat up for Miroslav Klose to head in his fifth goal of the finals, Klinsmann willed on the header by doing his own mock version. It was a goal that the Argentinians deserved to concede, for they made a grave error in judgement by electing to sit on the 1-0 lead they gained on 49 minutes rather than go for the jugular. Then their playmaker Riquelme was gone and they were forced to endure the lottery of a penalty shoot-out where Arsenal goalie Jens Lehmann reigned supreme [see pic]. Apparently there was quite a serious bust-up between the two squads after this game and there may very well be reprisals for all concerned once FIFA has reviewed the footage.

ITALY-3 UKRAINE-0– To be honest, the former Soviet republic were never ever in this one at all, and they will be happy to have gone this far. Interesting comparisons can be drawn to Ireland’s adventure in 1990, when we too won our second round game on penalties after a 0-0 draw only to go and lose to the Italians in the quarter-finals. I feel the Ukranians’ pain, and I will have a Chicken Kiev in their honour. It’s always a relief to see a team’s pre-tournament predicted star shine in at least one match, and Luca Toni did just that [see pic] on the night here to see the Azzuri safely through to a semifinal with the hosts.

ENGLAND-0 PORTUGAL-0 aet [Portugal win 3-1 on penalties] – The picture shows the moment England’s hopes ended and Rooney’s face says it all. I reckon it was a harsh decision to award a straight red card for what had to be more of an accidental collision between his studs and what I now refer to as The Groin Of Gelsenkirchen. It’s even more of a kick in the crotch that the same ref has been rewarded with a gig officiating over the final. England played admirably with ten men after that and were actually the better side, though they never really looked like scoring. Portugal had their game plan to unsettle their opponents and it worked to a T, and it’s unfortunate that this tactic has been proven to work so well. Once it came to a shoot-out, Ricardo’s superior experience in the situation won the day – despite the fact that his teammates were unsuccessful with two kicks, they were missed rather than saved by the clearly-out-of-his-depth Paul Robinson. All in all a sad way for Eriksson to end his England stewardship and Beckham his captaincy, but to be honest, they never lived up to their pre-tournament billing.

BRAZIL-0 FRANCE-1– Much like England, the holders Brazil got this far without being properly tested, but my God, did the French make up for that in this game and then some. It should have been at least 3-0. Zinedine Zidane gave his illustrious opposition a masterclass in how to command a ball at his feet, and his teammates rose to the occasion with him. In the end it was his first ever assist to Thierry Henry [pic] that won the day. It was a delight to see Les Bleus return to their 1998-2000 form when they were virtually unbeatable – this was something that few experts predicted going into this tournament. If they play like this the rest of the way, they will be adding a second star to their jerseys for sure.


GERMANY-0 ITALY-2 aet – It’s not often a neutral observer would actually want a game to go to penalties, but I have to admit it would have been interesting to see Lehmann and Buffon go head-to-head. At least there were two stunning goals right at the death for us to savour, most notably Grosso’s sweetest of sweet strikes to break the host nation’s hearts [see pic]. Del Piero finished it off with a well taken effort shortly afterwards, and though the result does not reflect the contest, the Italians deserved their place in the final when all is said and done. One of the biggest disappointments of the tournament has been the form (or rather the lack of it) of German skipper Michael Ballack. Had he ever managed to play like he has in the past for Bayern Munich, they could have gone all the way.

PORTUGAL-0 FRANCE-1– For the 90 minutes it was a drab dull encounter, but anyone with even a passing knowledge of football would have been rooted to this contest throughout nonetheless. Zidane was on a yellow card and since he was to retire from football altogether after the World Cup, you were on tenderhooks whenever he went for a challenge hoping it would not end that way. Luckily it didn’t and he proved the hero in the end, showing the English how to take a penalty against Ricardo by coolly slotting it home with minimum effort after Carvalho fell for Henry’s trickery and brought him down. I was glad to see the Portuguese fall at this hurdle – they played as though they felt they had done enough by getting past England, and in the end it was yet another fruitless campaign for their so-called “Golden Generation” – I wonder how long it will be before we see them go this far again.

all photos courtesy of www.bbc.co.uk

I don’t want to predict the score of the 3rd place playoff on Saturday night between Germany and Portugal because it is quite possibly the most pointless high profile contest in any sport. It’s a throwback to the origins of this tournament from back in the 30s when they modelled the event on the Olympics and thus felt compelled to award a bronze medal. Nowadays the Greek festival comes a poor second in popularity to the World Cup and perhaps a charity match featuring players from all of the 30 nations that did not make the final or maybe even a celebrity challenge match could take its place. My prediction for the final is 2-1 to France aet.


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