Keeping with the SoccerLens tradition of making predictions before every round of the World Cup, here’s another edition of World Cup predictions as we near the finale of Germany 2006.
Only one of our original quarter final predictions came true – but then again betting on Italy to beat Ukraine was like betting on Lampard not scoring in the England-Portugal quarter-final. Two other matches – Germany-Argentina and England-Portugal – can be justifiably called as upsets as the winning team played the poorer football over 120 minutes.
France though, were magnificent and thoroughly deserved their win. Portugal will be lucky to have Deco and Costinha back – breaking through the French defense and denying Ribery, Zidane and Vieira any space will be the toughest task the Portuguese have faced yet.
Still, with the two semi finals taking place on Tuesday (July 4) and Wednesday (July 5), let’s look at each of them in turn.
First Semi-Final – Germany vs Italy
Despite the assured performance that saw Germany through in the penalties, Klinsmann would have been worried that Argentina played them off the park from the 10th to the 70th minute of the game. An initial burst apart, Germany nevery looked comfortable on the ball and while Riquelme was not as effective (excellent marking by Frings) he was still able to control the game and keep Germany out of it.
It was only when Riquelme was substituted that Argentina lost their ability to keep possession in the midfield. Cambiasso is a defensive midfielder and doesn’t possess the passing skills of Riquelme. It was little surprise then that Germany were able to push ahead with more ease after Riquelme left. And we all know what happened when Pekerman decided to leave Messi on the bench and went with Cruz instead.
Italy would have looked at that match and thought – if we play like Argentina and don’t make the same mistakes, we can go through. The trouble for Italy though is that they have found it difficult to score – putting three past Ukraine was not the grandest of feats – Spain made it 4-0 and were still sent home packing by a team everybody thought weren’t up to it.
Germany will still play with their 4-4-2 brand of attacking football, and their approach to the World Cup has been refereshing to say the least.
I wonder what Klinsmann would have done with England. Would Becks have played? Would Lampard have played? Would Sol Campbell be in the squad? We can only wonder.
It’s a match you cannot call, except for one or two things – the game will hinge on Ballack’s return and Klose’s form. Ballack played with an injury in the latter part of the match and Germany’s chance to control the game against Italy would depend on Ballack’s health. One thing you cannot discount though is Germany’s will to win. In both semi-finals you have two teams who an enormous will to win (Germany and France) and two teams who are merely efficient (Italy and Portugal).
Germany to win, 2-1? Hopefully this one is decided in 90 minutes – this whole ‘play-120-minutes-then-decide-on-penalties’ game is starting to spoil football.
Second Semi-Final – France vs Portugal
Portugal have now played three of their most gruelling matches to date – a 2-1 rollercoaster match with Mexico, a card-ridden 1-0 against Holland and now 120 minutes of ineffective football against England. You could say that they’ve won without looking entirely convincing.
France, on the other hand, finally manage to turn their defensive strength into a classy winning performance, with Zidane at the heart of their 1-0 win over Brazil.
Who would dare bet against France now?
France have just beaten the reigning champions, but the looks on the faces of the Brazilian players told the story – they had lost the match early on, and failed to stamp any sort of control over 90 minutes. They had 1 – ONE – shot on goal in the entire 90 minutes. To put that into perspective, Ukraine had 5 shots on target against Italy.
Seeing Cicinho and Robinho go up and congratulate Zidane was touching, though I didn’t see Roberto Carlos or Ronaldo do the same. Zidane’s retirement party may not have borne fruit at Real Madrid (where they finished second in the league), and while they may not win the World Cup this time you would still think that even this would be a fitting farewell.
Portugal have a problem. Scolari will know how well France played yesterday, and he also knows that to beat France they will have dominate the center of the park. Ronaldo, Simao, Deco and Figo will be key here, but I think Portugal would be better served by playing an attacking 4-4-2 and going for the win from the first whistle. France will want to slow the game down so that Zidane can create the moves and Makelele and Vieira can shield the defense, and the slower the game gets the harder it will be for Portugal’s impact players (the four just mentioned) to create goal-scoring opportunities.
France to win, another 1-0 affair. Once again, let’s hope this doesn’t get dragged into extra time.
A Germany-France final? That really would be classic, seeing the sort of teams they have beaten along the way and the stories attached to their progress.
We’ll find out soon enough.