Sunday, July 02, 2006

Quarterfinal Roundup.

By now it should be clear to everyone who reads this blog that I don't know nearly as much about soccer as I profess to know. This weekend's games proved that much. I picked Argentina to beat Germany and they lost. I say that Klose only scores against small countries and he comes out with a huge goal against Argentina. I though England's luck would continue against Portugal and Portugal sent them crashing out of the tournament. Finally, I thought Brazil would overcome France but France elminated the Brazilians again. I know very little my friends.

What surprised me the most about the quarterfinals was that France's plan actually worked. They used Makelele and Vieira to hound the ball all over the midfield and as soon as they won the ball Zidane was always in place, just a few yards back, to receive the ball and turn defending into attacking. The reason I didn't think this would work was that I thought Brazil would have moved the ball much better than it did. Unfortunately, despite the changes that I thought would improve the team, it just didn't pan out. Parreira brought in Juninho and Gilberto Silva and moved Ronaldinho farther forward than he had been playing all tournament. I thought these changes would have brought a more fluid attacking style because now Ronaldinho could get the ball higher up the field and closer to goal where he could creat instead of being jettisoned to the left side like had been for most of the tournament. This was not to be, however, as both Vieira and Makelele turned in great performances, tackling and harrying the Brazilian attackers for most of the game. Once they got the ball and gave it to Zidane it was a treat to watch the old master up to his old tricks again. In the first minute, on his first touch, Zidane slid the ball back with his right foot, turned, pirouetted, and left two Brazilian defenders in his wake. From then on he continued to school Brazilians including a "sombrero" where he flicked the ball over Ronaldo's head and took it down effortlessly and was on his way. Initially I though that if France were to win it would be because they defended with about eight players but this was not the case. On balance I would have to say that the best team on that day won. The loss could not be attributed to anything that Brazil didn't do but more so that France did everything right and, in truth, probably should have had more goals scored. He'll also have to explain how he got outcoached by such a half with like Domenech but the truth is that with Zidane playing the way he was playing there was no way France were going to lose.

In the other game on Saturday, Portugal eliminated England on penalties. This is the fifth major tournament of the last seven that England have been eliminated on penalties (World Cup '90, Euro '96, World Cup '98, Euro '04, World Cup '06). Before the tournament started I wrote in this about the England team:

Traditional also rans. The English team always seems to show up at the major tournaments overhyped and then eventually crash out sheepishly.Two things make me cautious about picking them to make it beyond the quarterfinals though:

1.) Where will the goals come from? Michael Owen has been out since January and hasn't played a competitive match in months. The game against Jamaica can hardly count as competitive since the English walked all over my homeland 6-0. Wayne Rooney the other top English forward has been out with a broken foot for four weeks. His return to the squad may be a little premature and risky. This puts a lot of pressure on poplocking(watch out for his breakdancing if he scores in the cup) forward Peter Crouch who is previously untested at the international level.
2.) Pairing Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard may prove to be a disaster. Both players on their own are probably among the top 10 midfielders in the world. However, their qualities are so similar, they both like to attack, that it may leave a gaping hole in the midfield if they both go forward. It would be best if England played Gerrard with Michael Carrick, a naturally defensive midfielder instead of both Lampard and Gerrard. But it would be hard to justify leaving out a player of Lampard's obvious quality. Because of these two question marks, I have picked the English to go out in the quarterfinals against Portugal, much like in Euro 2004.

Sure enough, I was at least right about England. They just didn't score enough goals in the tournament to deserve to win it and Lampard and Gerrard looked a shell of themselves for the entire tourament. Both players missed their penalties while the much maligned Owen Hargreaves converted his. Two things may have prolonged England's participation in the World Cup: the presence of Jermaine Defoe or Darren Bent(Bent was the top English scorer in the English Premier League this year but was left off the squad. He's definitely a bigger goalscoring threat than Crouch and the same could be said for Defoe.) and a more willingness by the coaching staff to include Aaron Lennon in games at the earlier stages. Lennon came on for Beckham on Saturday and with his first touch set up one of England's best chances of the day. Lennon has something that Beckham does -- an ability to run at defenders and beat them one and one. Beckham is better at free kicks but more of the game is played in open play and it would have been good for England if they had the young player out there supporting the attack.

So the semifinals look like this: France v. Portugal and Germany v. Italy. By picking winners in these games I run the risk of removing all doubt as to my idiocy. Here goes: Germany v. France in the final. Since 1950 only the 1978 World Cup final with Argentina and Holland, was played without either Brazil or Germany in it. Since the Brazilians are now home I'm picking Germany to be in the final. They have homefield at advantage. They are on a roll. The Italians look strong and if the game wasn't on German soil I'd be picking Italy. I actually think they have the better players on the field and they still have not been scored on by an opponent this whole tournament. In the other game, I'm picking France because they beat Brazil. That's really it. Fans of Portugal and Italy must feel very relieved that I didn't pick their team since, judging by my picks in the quarterfinals I have no idea about these things.

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