Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pre-Final Roundup: Impudent Pirlo, Resurgent Zidane, Unloved Domenech and Updated Lippi

After a lull, The Guardian has snapped-to and is HEAVILY posting pre-final analysis.

Richard Williams has a very good profile of Gennaro Gattuso:
Italy's football fans usually idolise players who ooze style and class. This time, however, their choice is not Francesco Totti or Alessandro Del Piero, the golden boys, or even Fabio Cannavaro. Their affections have been engaged by the bearded Gattuso, the hard man of the midfield, the terrier, the spoiler, the warrior who embodies the success of Marcello Lippi's squad in overcoming a series of recent events that could have destroyed their will to compete before they had even kicked a ball in the tournament.

Gattuso incarnates the quality known to Italians as grinta, or fighting spirit. As well as acting as a bodyguard to Andrea Pirlo, whose suave passes direct the flow of Italy's play, Gattuso is charged with disrupting the opposition's attacks at source. When Marco Materazzi was asked this week how Italy would cope with the threat of Zinédine Zidane tomorrow, he had no hesitation in announcing their strategy. "Zidane won't be a problem," he said. "We've got Gattuso. He'll stop him."

This Lippi profile describes the way Italy's new manager has caught up the National Team with the prevalent trends in Serie A:
The Spanish press have declared Tuesday's performance as "the game the world fell in love with". Coming from traditionally the Italian game's keenest critics this is praise indeed, but the truth is that Tuesday's showing is some way from being a revolution. Italians have quietly been playing exciting, attacking football for years. Consider the following statistic: the past three seasons have seen more goals scored per game in Italy's Serie A than in either the Premiership or the Spanish Liga. Or consider Milan: Liverpool fans may recall that it was precisely their lack of a defensive mentality that saw them come so spectacularly unstuck in Europe.The difference now is that the national team is finally reflecting this.

Kevin McCarra notes the way Andrea Pirlo has quietly stolen Totti's role as playmaker:
Take Andrea Pirlo, who is among the most acclaimed figures at this competition. He was the complete master of his art at Grosso's goal, resisting the temptation to have a speculative shot as Germans charged at him following a corner and being calm enough to make the pass to the left-back. Not everyone had faith that he would ever be capable of such influence.

The head swims at the task of rating Internazionale's prolific bungles but their dealings with Pirlo must come near the top. They had little concept of what to do with this son of a rich family and, following loan periods at his first club Brescia and Reggina, he was transferred to Milan. To give credit, it was there that the coach Carlo Ancelotti had an inspired notion about Pirlo's real purpose.

He put the apparent playmaker in the holding role, letting him start moves and also go on the attack now and again. His deficiencies in defence are covered, for club and country, by the siting of Gennaro Gattuso close to him. Pirlo has been named man-of-the-match in two of Italy's six games at the World Cup.

Roberto DiMatteo notes that Italy is - uncharacteristically - starless this year:
This is a team that has played well without there being any individual who's really stood out. In one game there's been one player and in another match another player who has been the best performer. If there's one player off his game, then another will raise his. So it's been the team spirit and teamwork that has most shown through.

Jon Brodkin writes in defense of France's underappreciated manager:
Two hundred years after Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Berlin, the French leader who takes his troops into the city tomorrow does so amid considerably less personal fanfare. Few coaches can have reached a World Cup final to so little adulation as Raymond Domenech. Amid the plaudits heaped on Zinédine Zidane, Lilian Thuram and other players, the 54-year-old has barely received a mention. It is as if his team's progress in Germany has been achieved in spite of rather than because of him.

This piece delights in Zidane's determination to shut up the impudent journalists who trashed him at the start of the tournament:
Spain's sporting press has always worn its power like a badge of honour, but even by its standards this was something else - this was playing God. Marca, the country's best-selling newspaper, had not so much awakened a sleeping giant as resurrected a deceased one. And, while the consequences for their own national team were disastrous, they had presented football with the greatest of gifts - the return, however fleeting, of Zinédine Zidane.

With Spain preparing to face France in the second round, and amid a collective sense of euphoria, Marca roared: "We're going to retire Zidane!" The very impudence guaranteed they would be wrong: balding and ageing he may be, but the Frenchman is a single game from a second World Cup medal and a queue of admirers and bandwagon-jumpers are pleading with him not to leave football behind forever in Berlin tomorrow night.

This bit sums up the pre-final gambling odds.

Finally, this piece lists the ten best reasons to support one side or another.


Anonymous daniel said...

What Quico? not a single word for today's match? Not even to hope that Germany will trash Portugal and the boy monster?

9:49 AM  
Blogger Francisco said...

I always found the 3rd place game a bit depressing...why drag these two fine teams through all the humiliation of reminding the world they didn't make the final? There's something off about it...I'll only go see it because my housemate is German.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous mumin said...

I was hoping for a great game until the portuguese scored an own goal. From there on I guess I just paid cursory interest. The more pressing question in my mind was:

Which of the blue teams will have to play in away colours in the final?

7:57 PM  
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