Sunday, July 09, 2006

First Half Diary: France 1 Italy 1

The World Cup Final is finally here. It just dawned on me that in my previous post I bet against the team with the greatest player of the past 20 years and one of the top 3 players in the world. France's team is replet with players who have won championships in Italy, Spain, England and France. They have Champions league, World Cup and European Championship winners medals. The Italian team boasts only a few players who have won in Serie A and by my count only Del Piero, Gattuso and Pirlo have own the champions league. The championship experience definitely lies with France. But yet I'm picking Italy? I must be mental.

Things to watch for in today's game:

-Thierry Henry has played in six finals but has only a solitary goal to show for his efforts.
-Fabio Cannavaro is looking to be the first defender to have his name etched on the Golden ball.
-Can Gattuso, Camoranesi and Perotta slow down Zidane and Ribery?
-Can Totti and Toni cause the near impregnable partnership of Lilian Thuram and William Gallas some problems today?
-And the biggest story that everyone is reporting, can Zidane craft the perfect ending to an excellent career? We will find out over the next 90 minutes or, more likely, over the next 120. Let the games begin.

Minute 1: We've kicked off with the Azzurri passing the ball around between them early. Carelss giveaway in midfield by the Italians but Zidane plays it too far ahead. Already THIERRY HENRY IS DOWN from a collision with Fabio Cannavaro. Is this a Michael Owne situation? Henry is still down. The stretchers are out. Is Henry milking the clock already? He looks really out of it. Maybe Ronaldo put somethin in his food to pay back for '98. Marcelo Balboa gives his first contribution to the game "this could be a concussion."

Minute 3: We're still dealing with Henry here. This is no good for les Bleus. If Henry has to go out this will no doubt strengthen the claims that Henry is not a big game player.

Minute 4: On comes Henry, the pride of Guadalupe and play has picked up again. A good Italian attack ends with Zambrotta totally taking out Patrick Vieira's knees. Zambrotta gets a yellow card for his efforts.

MInute 6: PENALTY!!! Florent Malouda goes down after barely being touched by Materazzi. This is a shame that the game is being tarnished by Malouda's dive. Cagey stuff.

Minute 7: Zidane chips his penalty that goes off the crossbar and back down a few inches across the goalline. What a wonderful chip and it's game on. This isn't looking good. Italy needs two goals to win it against a French defense that's only given up one goal from open play.

MInute 9: I'm really hoping that another goal is scored here because to have the tournament decided on a dubious penalty like that would be unfortunate. ....Just like that Materazzi almost obliges me by heading the ball nearly into his own net. Corner for France but nothing comes of it. Before the game started many thought Materazzi would be the weak link for Italy. He's proving everyone right so far.

Minute 11: Collision on the right side between Grosso and Sagnol and both players go down as if they've been shot. Sagnol gets a yellow card and we continue playing.

Minute 13: We've seen nothing yet from the Italians in attack. The ball's been pinging around in midfield . The only real attacking threat from either side ended up Zidane scoring the penalty.

Minute 14: Great defensive header from Thuram on a Pirlo free kick. Corner for ITaly which comes to nothing. Pirlo has really come alive in the last two minutes. I still can't get over that early penalty decision. This game CANNOT end 1-0.

Minute 17: Longball from Pirlo finds no one on the other end. Italy, are you England in disguise?

Minute 19: WHOOOO!!! GOAL!!! Apparently poetic justice is on display here. Andrea Pirlo takes a free kick and Materazzi connects with it, rising well above Vieira to knock it in. You can't really say that it was poor defending from Vieira. He was just outjumped by a taller player. NOW we have a game on our hands.

Minute 21: We area halfway into the first half and I haven't heard Totti's name called a single time. Ditto for Henry (besides getting hurt). There sare two of the best players in the game but seem to always come up short in big games. Nothing would make me happier than to see one of them score the winning goal today.

Minute 24: The Italians are starting to get their flow going. Pirlo is playing extremely well but seems to be getting the ball too deep to make a difference.

Minute 25: First sign of Henry. He picks the ball up in the center circle and takes it into the box and passes to Ribery but the play is broken up by Totti. Again, Pirlo picks up the ball but about 10 yards from his box. He can't be effective playing that deep. Pirlo needs to get farther up the field and give the defensive duties to someone else.

Minute 27: Another corner kick for Italy and another great header from Materazzi but the ball is cleared by Thuram. All for naught anyway because a foul was called on the big defender.

Minute 29: Great play from Camoranesi so far. Everytime he gets the ball Italy look to do something positive. Camoranesi wins a free kick and now Totti is looking to take it from about 40 yards out. Predictably, the shot is blocked and the French take possession.

Minute 31: Not much out of the young French players right now. Malouda and Ribery are bystanders. Everything for France is going through henry and Zidane but the Italians are doing a good job at soaking up pressure. Another Italy longball finds no one. Again, Italy are you England in disguise?

Minute 33: Simone Perotta goes down clutching his foot after having it stepped on by Franck Ribery. He's writhing in pain. Without a doubt he will continue. This is the World Cup final.

Minute 35: Great play from Pirlowwho gets the ball to Gattuso in the box and it goes out for a corner. Luca Toni hits the bar with his header. The French defense on set pieces is looking very suspect. The Italians are taking advantage of their height.

Minute 36: Great dummmy by Henry to get the ball in the box but Cannavaro unbeatable as usual boots it out for a corner. Nothing comes of the corner and a goal kick for Italy.

Minute 38: Ribery and Malouda are getting eaten up. No positive sign from either of the youngsters. The same can be said for Totti who has contributed nothing to this game. Zambrotta and Grosso continues to push up and keep the French wingers on their toes. That's why everything is going down the middle. Should be interesting to see how the French play without having any width on either side of the pitch, er, field. The French respond by pushing Henry out farther wide on the left.

Minute 44: Materazzi man handles Ribery by the corner flag and breaks up a French attack. Still almost 45 minutes and nothing from Totti. How soon before we see Alex Del Piero?

Minute 45: Halftime. Good stuff from both teams. Should be an exciting second half. France really needs to improve on their defensive efforts on set pieces and Italy needs to get Pirlo farther upfield. Will Totti improve or will he have to be replaced by Del Piero?

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