What a game. I started out with a reluctant interest in supporting Italy, because despite Klinsmann’s best efforts I can’t bring myself to support the Germans. But as the game proceeded and it became clear that Italy was actually attacking, rather than sitting back and hoping for the best, I became more enthusiastic — until a thunderstorm caused a power outage just as the second overtime period was starting. Crap.
Anyway, having watched most of the replay on Telefutura…
I thought the ref did a great job — a couple of odd calls (a free kick for Germany just outside the box for nothing; a real foul on Totti at the other end ignored, etc.) but encouraged a free flowing game. Mostly the Italians were falling as opposed to doing the sniper drop, which is a plus*, and the Germans were just as cynical in trying to provoke Gattuso (I’m looking at you, Ballack) and Totti (that tackle by Borowski that drew a card just happened to be on the left leg that has the metal rod and 9 screws…)
But I think more importantly was that while the sides were not separated by a huge gulf, Italy were the better team. Their passing was better, and they were able to accurately work both short and long balls into space. The Germans’ speed in counter-attack was a real strength, especially after the very impressive Odonkor came on, but they let too many chances go and were a little casual in possession.
However, the real challenge that Germany just couldn’t overcome was the Italian defense and keeper. While I have an irrational dislike of Cannavaro, his play was phenomenal — his tackling, work rate, and total lack of fear were beyond compare. On the rare occasion that Buffon was troubled, he was equal to it.
At the other end, Lehmann had another great game, and was never bothered by Totti’s crosses from corner. However, there was the sense that at some point the Italians were going to get the better of the Germans’ relative lack of experience in defense and so it proved. The goal from Grosso was a screamer, all the more satisfying for coming from a Palermo player — and I was watching at that point with my Sicilian neighbour, who was only too happy to catch the replay.
The mention of a Palermo player was deliberate: a fair number of the Italian players on this team are going home to an uncertain professional immediate future, as it appears that Juventus may be sent to Serie C, and AC Milan, Lazio, and Fiorentina sent to Serie B. Now, anything that angers Berlusconi is a good thing, and those fascists at Lazio could be disbanded for eternity for all I care, but I have to wonder what that will do to the quality of football in Serie A. Frankly, over the several seasons that I’ve been watching Serie A it’s been getting more boring, so perhaps new teams with a redistribution of players and fewer rigged outcomes might make it more interesting….
*A number of people whose footie blogs I have been reading plainly saw the game differently than I did; I suspect that some of that’s down to the entirely commendable spirit of bitterness that should accompany World Cup viewing of teams that have progressed by 1) beating your side, and 2) cheating away.
I also think that some of it’s down to the fact that diving is what people expected to see; I know I did and was somewhat surprised that by Italian league standards it wasn’t too bad. I noticed that same sentiment reflected in some of the UK reports on the game also… And frankly, in a World Cup where the rules have been tilted to favor simulation, it’s become an SEC game: “If you ain’t cheatin, you ain’t tryin.”