France 0-2 Italy (Pirlo, pen. 25′, De Rossi 62′)
Group C, Euro 2008
Tuesday 17 June 2008
Kickoff – 20:45 CET, 14:45 EST
Italy defeated France, 2-0, in a heated Group C match to sneak into the Knockout Round. Soccerlens brought the action to you live. Click below for the live blog.
It was only two years ago when France and Italy were in the World Cup Finals, battling over the biggest prize in international football. There wasn’t much difference between the two sides on that day. Italy may have prevailed in a shootout, but the French were so close to winning their second World Cup that there was a legitimate question as to whether the best team won. Indeed, if Gigi Buffon hadn’t saved Zidane’s brilliant header in the second half, or if David Trezeguet had converted his penalty kick during the shootout, then who knows? Maybe Les Bleus would have been celebrating at the end instead of the Azzurri. Either way, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to say that, after the World Cup, Italy and France were two of the top teams in the world, if not the top two teams period.
Well, two years must seem like an eternity ago for these two countries. To say that France and Italy haven’t impressed at Euro 2008 would be like saying Marco Materazzi managed to get under Zinedine Zidane’s skin a little bit. Both squads were humiliated by the Netherlands by a combined score of 7-1 and both teams were held to draws against Romania. France’s offense has yet to get going as Franck Ribery seems to be the only Frenchman who’s bothered to show up for the Euros. Meanwhile, Italy could very well have been eliminated against Romania had it not been for a great save by Buffon on Adrian Mutu’s penalty kick. Clearly, these two teams have fallen considerably from that World Cup Final to the point that they’re playing what amounts to an elimination game in the Group Stage of the Euros.
Still, there’s the feeling that either one of these teams could be a sleeping giant, ready to wreck havoc should they manage to get into the Knockout Round. After all, both of these squads have so much talent and so much international experience that they would be formidable opponents for anyone in the Knockout Round. As such, a popular conspiracy theory making the rounds is that the Netherlands might put forth something considerably less than their best effort in order to ensure that Romania goes through and that both Italy and France are eliminated.
That would be a shame if that were the case. Nevertheless, the French and the Italians have plenty to play for, regardless of what happens in the other match. There’s pride at stake. The French want payback and the Italians want to show that their win at the World Cup was not a fluke. Both coaches’ jobs are on the line, as well, so you can expect them to pull out all the stops to get the win. Most importantly, a number of legacies are stake. Lillian Thuram, Thierry Henry, Claude Makelele, and Patrick Vieira (who is out for this match) don’t want to be remembered as players who rode Zidane’s coattails to glory. Meanwhile, the Italians are desperate to validate their World Cup win as a number of key players from that Cup-winning squad could very well be remembered among the greatest of all time should the Italians make a run in the Knockout Round.
A win guarantees nothing but a chance at advancing. A loss guarantees an early trip home, plenty of questions, and a search for a new manager. Still, it should be a great match and we should be in for a treat!
France: Coupet, Evra, Abidal, Gallas, Clerc, Makelele, Toulalan, Ribery, Govou, Henry (captain), Benzema.
Subs: Vieira, Boumsong, Malouda, Anelka, Frey, Sagnol, Thuram, Squillaci, Gomis, Nasri, Diarra, Mandanda.
Looks like the French will be starting out in a 4-4-2 (or 4-2-2-2, depending on how you look at it), with Ribery and Govou in the advanced positions. As expected, no Vieira for the French. Thuram (who as absolutely abused by the Dutch) and Sagnol sit out as well as Abidal moves into central defense to partner Gallas, and Clerc gets the start over Diarra at right-back. In midfield, Malouda sits as Toulalan gets the start while Govou and Ribery (who both played well against the Netherlands) continue their partnership in midfield. Up front, Domenech brings back Benzema to pair with Henry up front. Looks like he’s abandoned the one-striker experiment, which is probably a good idea.
Italy: Buffon (captain), Grosso, Chiellini, Panucci, Zambrotta, Gattuso, De Rossi, Pirlo, Perrotta, Toni, Cassano.
Subs: Materazzi, Gamberini, Camoranesi, Del Piero, Amelia, Aquilani, Ambrosini, Quagliarella, Di Natale, Borriello, Barzagli, De Sanctis.
Not too many changes for the Italians. They look to start in a 4-3-1-2 with Perrotta playing right behind the strikers. Gattuso returns to the starting lineup, replacing Camoranesi, while the much-rumored Cassano start comes to fruition. I thought that they might pair Cassano with Del Piero since the two seemed to work together well when they both came on as subs in the Netherlands match, but Toni gets the nod instead. Materazzi sits again, which is a shame. You know French fans were looking forward to telling him what they thought about him.
Minute By Minute:
0′ For some reason, ESPN keeps using footage of the Rolling Stones for their Euro 2008 coverage. See? The British are being represented at the Euros after all!
0′ I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that William Gallas looks like he spent the month between the end of the Premier League season and the start of the Euros eating crepes and brioche. Still, he’s played better than Thuram has…
0′ Here they come out of the tunnel. Take a good look viewers. One or both of these teams will be done after today.
0′ The Italians with a rousing rendition of “Il Canto Degli Italiani.” I gotta say, I love this anthem. It sounds like such a fun song to sing. And the Italian players always sing it with such spirit. It’s time for “La Marseillaise” and the French team seem very subdued. Maybe the pressure is getting to them. There are a lot of French fans in attendance, and they help make up for the teams’ lack of passion. Got to give the nod to the Italians here.
0′ The Italians kick off and we’re under way!
1′ Ribery gets a shot on goal from long-distance, but it’s deflected out for the corner. Ribery delivers it into the box, but the Italians clear it. Clerc gets it back and forces another corner. Ribery sends it to Toulalan, who can’t get the right touch. The ball trickles dangerously inside the box, but the Italians manage to clear it.
3′ Govou gets it deep down the left flank, but it’s out for a goal kick. Long pass connects to Toni and he’s in one-on-one with the goal keeper. Toni shoots it wide and it’s a wasted chance for the Italians. Looks like he shot it way too early as he had time to draw the keeper out and get a better shot on goal. That’s what happens when you’re playing without any confidence.
5′ Ribery gets into the box and he sends a shot/cross wide of the goal. Once again, Ribery seems to be playing well for his country. Time will tell whether his teammates are up to the task.
7′ Ribery and Zambrotta get tangled up and Ribery is down. He’s clutching his foot and here comes the medic. If he’s hurt, then the French are in real trouble. He’s the one guy they can’t afford to lose.
9′ Disaster for the French as it looks like Ribery is done. Nasri (who may or may not be going to Arsenal, depending on what newspaper you read) is on for him. What a terrible blow for the French!
10′ Pirlo with the free kick into the box. Toulalan deflects it out for the corner. On the ensuing corner, Pirlo sends it to Panucci, who sends a rocket of a header on goal. Makelele clears off the line, and the French have dodged a major bullet.
13′ Govou has room on the right flank, but a poor touch allows the Italians to recover. Govou’s cross is too deep and is easily handled by Buffon. Back the other way, as Perotta with a great run down the right flank. His cross towards Toni is intercepted by Abidal, though.
14′ Benzema creates some space and shoots from long-distance. His effort is wide right, though, and barely troubles Buffon.
16′ First ball towards Cassano is too long. I think Italy are asking a lot of a guy whose been known more for his attitude and disciplinary problems than for his goalscoring. Speaking of which, Evra fouls Cassano on the left flank and is given a yellow.
18′ Pirlo’s free kick comes tantalizingly close to connecting with Toni in the box, but Coupet is able to punch it clear.
20′ Govou comes back the other way and gets a shot on goal from long distance that is juuust a bit outside. He had numbers in the box and probably should have passed.
21′ Pirlo sends in a nice over-the-top pass that sends Perrotta clear. Unfortunately for the Italians, Perotta can’t control it. Otherwise, he could have scored.
22′ Govou finds Benzema and Benzema makes a nice run towards goal. His cross gets deflected out for a throw. Good effort from Benzema, though. French try a long pass to Henry deep in the box, but it’s too long.
23′ Double whammy for the French! Toni is through on a great pass over the top. Abidal brings him down and it’s a penalty! Plus, Abidal gets sent off! What a huge swing in momentum!
25′ GOAL! Pirlo scores on the penalty and it’s 1-nil to Italy!
26′Boumsong is on for Nasri. Wow, talk about an early hook for Nasri. France needs another defender, though, so it makes sense. No Thuram? Wow… How the mighty have fallen… Italians on the attack again, Perrotta gets the cross in the box, he holds it and sends it back for De Rossi. De Rossi with a rocket of a shot, but it’s over the crossbar.
27′ Cassano with a nice cross into the box and Toni tries to back-heel it into the goal. It’s just wide, though. The French are absolutely shell-shocked.
29′ Pirlo with another great lob to Toni and Toni is alone again. Poor touch, though, and his shot goes wide of the mark.
30′ No, this is not deja-vu. Pirlo sends it to Gattuso, who makes a nice back-touch to Toni. Toni’s clear again, only this time he’s a little too clear. Offsides on Luca Toni, who should have at least one goal by now…
31′ Govou with another good run down the right flank. He loses possession, though, before he can cross it to Henry or Benzema. At least they seem like they’re able to operate on the right…
33′ Toulalan with a great through-ball to Henry, who makes a great run into the box and sends a shot just wide of the mark. Great effort from Henry, though.
34′ French back on the attack as Benzema and Henry do the give-and-go. Benzema loses it as he tries to run into the box, though.
35′ Henry sends it to Clerc, but Clerc’s return ball is intercepted. Looks like Henry has started to wake up.
36′ Henry gets it and goes for the shot just outside the box. Gattuso fouls him, though, and France has a good opportunity on the free kick.
37′ Benzema takes the kick and it’s a terrible effort that hits the wall. He gets it back and shoots on goal, but it’s not even close. They cut to footage of Domenech praying. You’re going to need it if you want to win this game, buddy.
40′ Good run by Grosso into the French box, but the pass is too long.
42′ Benzema makes a nifty move to create space from Gattuso, who’s on him like white on rice. The cross is too long for Henry, though. You can just feel Henry’s frustration with his strike partner growing. Italians on the attack as De Rossi is fouled by Toulalan just outside the box. Good chance for the Italians here.
43′ Free kick and it’s Grosso, not Pirlo that takes it. Grosso’s effort goes off the post! Wow. On the replay, Coupet got a touch on the ball first. The French have dodged more bullets than Neo. Meanwhile, the French are going the other way, and we’ve got some fireworks. Pirlo gets a yellow card for fouling Benzema, and Pirlo will miss the Italy’s next match.
45′ Three minutes of added time. Clerc cross it into the box to no one in particular. Benzema and Evra try the give and go, but Evra gets caught on the foot as he tries the cross and he’s down. Looks like he’s okay, though.
45′ + 3 Another booking as Chiellini gets a yellow for a foul on Henry. Makelele takes the free kick and it’s a nice cross towards an unmarked Benzema. However, the cross is long and Toni clears it away. There’s the whistle and it’s halftime.
So, just about everything that could have gone wrong for the French, did. Their best player went off with an injury. They went down a man, and they conceded a goal on a penalty kick. Still, the French are not out of it, and they showed that they are still a force to be reckoned with. They’ll actually be in a good position since the Italians tend to sit on their leads and become passive. As such, the French can take some chances and not have to worry so much about the Italians going on the counterattack. That’s not to say that the Italians won’t try and score, but they won’t pull a Netherlands and try and ice the game by scoring more goals.
45′ We’re under way in the second half as the French kick off. It’s still scoreless in the Romania/Netherlands match, which is just how the Italians and the French like it.
46′ Yellow for Govou as he brings Cassano down.
47′ Pirlo sends a nice cross into the box for Toni. Toni’s facing the wrong way, though, and he heads it away from goal. Cassano eventually gets it and tries the shot. Evra is there to block it, though.
49′ Clerc tries to lob it to Govou, but it’s too long for Govou. Toulalan with a nice cross into the box and Henry tries to put it in. He’s blocked, but it goes to Benzema, who has a great opportunity to equalize. His shot is too high, though. Terrible match, so far, for Benzema.
51′ Toulalan sends in another good pass to Henry. Henry turns and fires at goal, but he doesn’t get enough power on his shot, and Buffon takes it easily. Back the other way as Toni gets free inside the French box. He tries to cross it, but it’s too close to Coupet.
52′ Henry back with another shot, and his shot is stopped by Buffon. Henry came to play today. Back the other way, and Zambrotta sends a pass towards Toni in the box, it’s too hard for Toni to handle.
53′ Gattuso gets a yellow after he takes Makelele down. The Malcontented Mutt will miss the next game.
54′ Pirlo is off and Ambrosini is on for the Italians. Meanwhile, Huntelaar has scored for the Dutch! So, if this result holds, the Italians will go through. And, of course, the Italian fans are celebrating as if they’ve already booked a place in the next round.
57′ Poor effort from Cassano, as he needlessly gives the ball away. He ran straight towards the sideline without trying to make the turn or pass it to a teammate. Not sure what he was trying to do there…
58′ Toulalan takes it away and sends in a cross towards Henry. Henry is offsides, though, and he’s screaming for a foul.
59′ Long pass to Toni is too long. The Italians seem like they’re content to sit on the lead.
60′ Of course, right after I say that, Cassano gets sprung for a breakaway opportunity. Coupet is quick off the line, though, and he prevents any further damage.
61′ GOAL!! Clerc is called for a foul on Cassano. The Italians get a free kick about 20 feet outside the box or so. De Rossi with the free kick and it takes a deflection off Henry and it’s in the back of the net! That’s the best touch Henry’s had all game.
63′ Perrotta is off and Camoranesi is on for defensive purposes. Well, we know what Italy will be doing for the next 30 minutes or so.
64′ France gets a free kick just outside the box on the right flank. Toulalan with the cross towards Henry, but Grosso clears it. Evra gets it and sends it to Toulalan. Toulalan tries the long distance shot, but it’s easily blocked.
65′ Toni gets sprung for the breakaway opportunity, but Evra tracks him down and takes it away. Great play from Evra. Meanwhile, Govou is off and Anelka is on for France. Could it be addition by subtraction? Or subtraction by addition?
67′ Makelele slips and hits Gattuso on the foot. The Petulant Puppy is down and is in a lot of pain. As card happy as this ref has been, he doesn’t give one to Makelele, which is the right move since it clearly looked like an accident.
68′ Henry falls down and tries to draw a card. The ref isn’t buying it, and the replay clearly shows that Henry was acting.
69′ Clerc gives Cassano a little shove in the back, and Cassano falls down and acts like he’s been shot. Enough with the theatrics on both sides! Just play ball!
70′ On the ensuing free kick, the Italians try another over-the-top lob to Toni. Coupet grabs it, though, and the threat is averted.
71′ Boumsong gets a yellow for a foul on Toni. This game is turning ugly.
73′ Evra gives it to Benzema, and Benzema with a great shot on goal. Buffon makes the great save! Wow! Buffon dove and got his fingertips on it. If he were an inch shorter, then that would have been a goal! On the corner, Boumsong heads it to Henry. It’s long, but Henry is able to save it from going out. His cross, however, gets intercepted and the Italians clear it.
75′ Gallas is down on the pitch. He slid in to tackle Camoranesi, and it looks like his foot might have gotten caught on the turf. Is Gallas crying? Or is he just sweating profusely? Given his temperament, as well as his excess pounds, neither one is out of the question.
77′ Italy is playing keep away now, as they seem more than happy to run time off the clock.
80′ Clerc with a wild shot on goal that is wide left. I think the French have already accepted their fate and are just waiting for that final whistle.
81′ Gattuso is out and Aquilani is on for the Italians. They won’t have Gattuso for the next match, so might as well see what Aquilani can do. Meanwhile, Cassano wins a free kick and starts waving his arms, playing to the crowd. Well, now we can see why he’s been a head case wherever he’s played. Cassano didn’t do much of anything in this match. He should keep quiet and just play ball.
82′ Cassano sends a cross to Toni, and Toni’s effort forces a good save from Coupet. Of course, it’s all for naught since Toni was offsides.
84′ Henry slides in on Zambrotta and is given a yellow card. What’s the record for most yellow cards in a match? How close are we to breaking that mark? That card seemed harsh. Henry looks like he got the ball.
85′ Camoranesi with a good run into the box and he sends a cross/shot that is deflected out for a corner. Short corner and Cassano fires on goal. It takes a bounce off the pitch, but Coupet manages to catch it.
87′ Loud cheers from the Italian squad as the Dutch score again to make it 2-nil against Romania. Looks like we’re all set for the next round as far as the Group of Death is concerned.
88′ Benzema with a free kick from deep in the left flank. He sends it towards Gallas, but it’s too strong.
90′ Three minutes added. Italians are signing in the stands and the French look like they can’t wait to get off the pitch.
90′ + 1 Zambrotta with the long-distance shot, but its well over the cross bar.
90′ + 2 Toni with a great strike, but it hits the cross bar. That would have been a big confidence booster for Toni.
90′ + 3 Evra charges down the left and tries to send it in to the box, but there’s the whistle and that’s all she wrote! Italy lives to fight another day while France has a long summer ahead of them.
The Italians get the win, but it was hardly the kind of vindicating, momentum-building victory that they needed in order to reaffirm their status as one of the teams to beat. There were some tense moments for the Azzurri as the French threatened to equalize despite the fact that they were down a man and had lost their best playmaker. Nevertheless, they did what they had to do and deserved the win. The defense, which had been suspect against both the Netherlands and Romania, stood tall against the French, and Gigi Buffon continues to show everyone why he’s the best goalkeeper in the world. The midfield was solid and created a number of excellent scoring opportunities for Luca Toni. The Italians still haven’t played up to their potential, and they’ll have to improve if they have any shot of beating Spain.
As for the French, we can expect a housecleaning of sorts. Domenech is probably going to be fired, while Thuram, Makelele, Henry, Vieira, and Coupet are probably finished as far as national team opportunities go. Ribery is a keeper, though, while Evra, Govou, Benzema, and Toulalan should get opportunities in the future. The French team is going to get a lot of deserved criticism. Their offense was terrible and failed to generate any kind of consistent pressure on goal, while the defense broke down one too many times. Domenech relied too much on his World Cup veterans and he made a number of questionable personnel decisions that hurt the team (Trezeguet, Sagna, and Flamini, to name a few). Any way you look at it, this tournament was an unmitigated disaster for France, so maybe a rebuilding job is just what they need.
Man of the Match:
Buffon had another solid game and kept a clean sheet. Granted, he wasn’t troubled that much during the course of the match, but that save he made on Benzema is one of the best you’ll ever see. But the honor should go to Andrea Pirlo, and not just because he scored the opening goal (although it was a great penalty kick). Pirlo played a great all-around game and seemed like he was toying with the French defense at times. He generated numerous scoring opportunities for his teammates, and if Luca Toni had brought his finishing shoes today, Pirlo would have ended up with 3 or 4 assists. The Italians are going to miss him in their next game.