It’s been a pretty good tournament despite the piss poor officiating. Some may say the final four was a surprise, however, was it really? These teams have all been here before, all the teams with the exception of Germany have players with years of Cup experience and success. So, Brasil and Argentina didn’t make it through, yet one could see Brasil’s problems materialize early on, with Ronaldo at less than his best and a coach that seemed not to want to build a plan around their best player Ronaldinho.
Everyone is talking about how this is the last Cup for great stars like Zidane and Figo. However, few are talking about the retirment of Nakata Hideoshi. I was a bit surprised to learn that he had planned to retire from International competition after this tournament, he kept it to himself. I suppose he realized he probably wont be in form in 2010, and wanted to go out while he was still a sterling midfielder. On his site, he announced the retirement, stating he didn’t feel the same joy he felt as a young player. Nakata is to Europe what Ichiro has been to the US (to a lesser degree). He’s an example not only of the skill and abilities of Japanese athletes, but as a counter to our stereotypes of Japanese men as stiff, boring, not creative and obsessed with “order” (or Yakuza members and ninjas).
So, after that tribute, on with the predictions for the finals:
The Italians have played beyond their skill this tournament, and the French have played younger than their age, and just well enough to win. Neither side has really been spectacular, though you might argue that beating Brasil and holding them scoreless is a spectacular feat in itself. Both sides have strong defense; the Italian side plays physical and holds their shape, and are expert in drawing offside calls, that may hinder the sneaky Theirry Henri, who has been plagued by offside calls all tournament long. The French defense is physical as well, but very fast and close quarters quickly. They also like to push up on the wings and get into the attack; Patrick Viera may well be as important to the French defense as to their attack. Slight edge to
France has the clear advantage at midfield with the tireless Ribery and the inspired Zidane. Zidane and Henri have played together for so long they read each other very well, as evidenced by the great goal off the set piece that sent Brasil home.
Italy has their own legend at midfield in Totti. Though he’s been much maligned prior to the cup, he’s done a fair job in the tournament. Perrotta is very good.
With French’s funky formation, they leave Henri alone up top. In comparing strikers, the solo Henri has tough competition against
Italy’s duo of Toni and Gilardino. However,
Italy’s bench has Del Piero and Inzaghi two great players with lots of experience and talent. Still, Henri is one of
Europe’s most prolific scorers. I’ll call this one a push.
Keeper advantage goes to
Italy. Buffon has been great this tournament. Barthez is past his prime and shows it. Should the game go to penalties
France should be a little afraid.
So, aside from me thinking
France should win, I’m also rooting for Les Bleus.
Meanwhile, Germany is dismantling
Portugal in the third place match. What happened to the Portuguese offensive power? I suppose they got demoralized after the own goal, and seem to be a group of poor sports and were not really interested in giving a lot for a consolation game. Besides,
Germany wanted to save face in front of their fans at home.