The 2006 World Cup has been begging for a footballing epic and tonight the Azzuri pulled off an “Italian Job” that will rank as one of their finest wins over Germany.
This match had everything – fantastic defending from Cannavaro and Metzelder, sharp goalkeeping by Lehmann and Buffon, Gattuso’s worst game of the tournament, diving from Ballack, Podolski, Totti, Camoranesi, Lahm, Toni…
And best of all, no penalties.
Those who made football rules got it horribly wrong with penalty shootouts. Everything that is celebrated about football – the slick one-twos, the threaded defense-splitting passes, the hard tackling and lung-busitng runs – is missing from penalty shootouts.
Let the players keep playing 15 minute sessions of extra time until a team can hold a lead over two sessions. No penalties, no golden goals. Give them an extra sub after 120 minutes if necessary, but keep the game going. Make it a battle of wills, skills and stamina. Let us see some bloody football instead of the moronic yet gut-wrenching spectacle of players lining up to take potshots at the keeper from the spot.
Elsewhere, it has been stated (with a tinge of stereotyping) that latin american teams are divers and cheaters. This, by extension, would mean that the Italians were likely to resort to underhanded tricks in this semi-final. But for anyone who thinks their own club or national team contains only honest players, please watch the whole match again, and see how Podolski, Ballack, Lahm and Borowski try time and again to con the ref.
With his talents, does Ballack really need to resort to simulation? It’s a question you could ask of every diver…
Ballack was the biggest disappointment of them all. Not being a viewer of the Bundesliga, I’ve rarely seen Ballack in action apart from major tournaments and European club competitions. Seeing his diving skills this summer I can’t say I’m shocked (shock is when Henry dives) but it still leaves a bad taste. Players with his skills don’t need to cheat in order to win. The same goes for Lahm and Podolski, both taking pretty sprawling dives after they had escaped their markers unscathed.
The Italians are no angels – Totti, Camoranesi and Toni showed exactly why the Italian league is considered a haven for ‘simulation’. It’s a shameful label, but their performance merited none other.
At the same time though, there was enough quality football on display to make you forget about the game’s faults. The match was played aggressively yet cagily, neither team backing down from challenges or setting up attacks and both teams excelling at stopping the opposition. The Italians enjoyed a majority of the possession, thanks to Pirlo’s passing in the middle of the park and the bombing runs by Perrota, Camoranesi and Zambrotta on the wings.
In the end, it was a script-perfect finish as Pirlo’s pass put three German defenders out of play and Grosso’s shot curled passed Lehmann into the net. Lehmann had an excellent game despite the two conceded goals, the second one being vintage Del Piero as he popped up on the left side of the penalty area totally unmarked, received the ball from Gilardino and coolly slotted the ball past the keeper.
Two goals in the last two minutes of extra time, and from heading to a dreaded penalty shootout the Italians had pulled off a comfortable win against the effective but eventually not-good-enough Germans.
The World Cup has finally seen a match worthy of the occasion, and in 5 days time the Azzuri will walk out in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium for the chance to win the World Cup trophy for the fourth time.
Cannavaro was a road-block between Buffon and almost all of Germany’s attacks. A fantastic performance by the Azzuri captain.
Man Of The Match: Fabio Cannavaro. Brilliant in defense, this man made viewers forget that Gattuso had an average game by his standards.