Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 3

Netherlands 3-0 Italy
And the answer to the question of how Italy would cope without Fabio Cannavaro is: Not well at all. I can't remember the last time they lost this badly. Maybe they should have just put Cannavaro out there anyway, crutches and all.

The game turned to shit for Italy in the 25th minute, with Ruud van Nistelrooy scoring a goal that at first appeared to be blatantly offside. The problem is that Cristian Panucci had gone down in a heap on the far side of the goal line after a collision with Gianluigi Buffon, and apparently if you read the fine print of the offside rule, he counted as the second defender playing van Nistelrooy onside. Now, if the referee and linesman knew this at the time and that's why they let the goal stand, then well done to them, but I kind of suspect that they didn't see that Van Nistelrooy was behind the rest of the defenders and therefore blew the call -- although it ultimately turned out to be right.

Anyway, if you're going to be nit-picky, the Netherlands maybe should have scored earlier in the first half, when van Nistelrooy was played through on goal only to be caught by Buffon and ultimately lose possession. The contact was minor, but if he'd gone down rather than staying on his feet and trying to score, he probably would've got the penalty.

The controversy over van Nistelrooy's goal aside, the Dutch thoroughly deserved the win. I realize you can't completely discount that opening goal, since it meant that Italy had to push forward more and try for an equalizer, leaving openings at the back. But even so, they were being picked apart far too easily on the counter-attack.

The second Netherlands goal was the best one of the game. It started with an Italy corner that was cleared off the line by Gio van Bronckhorst, who was involved again later in the move with a great cross-field pass to Dirk Kuyt as the Dutch counter-attacked. Kuyt headed the ball down for Wesley Sneijder, who somehow managed to hook the ball past Buffon at the near post at a near-impossible angle. Van Nistelrooy could've made it three before halftime, after a through ball from Rafael van der Vaart that split the defence, but this time Buffon managed to block his shot. (Despite giving up three goals -- he even apologized to the fans after the game -- Buffon really did play well, as did Edwin van der Sar at the other end.)

Roberto Donadoni made a series of substitutions in the second half, attempting to get his team back into the game, but it was ultimately futile. First Fabio Grosso came on for Marco Materazzi to re-jig the defence, and then Alessandro del Piero and Antonio Cassano. The offensive changes did have an effect, although not enough to actually score, while the defenders still managed to give up another goal. The Netherlands had also brought on some fresh legs, and van Bronckhorst added a third goal after yet another counter-attack in the 80th minute -- Buffon blocked Kuyt's shot but not Van Bronckhorst's follow-up header.

Italy's most obvious problem was the lapses at the back -- I think they missed Cannavaro not only for his defensive talents but also for his ability to organize the rest of the back line. In his absence, Andreas Barzagli was mostly invisible, while Materazzi was notable mostly for being crap. But they also needed more protection from midfield. I think the Milan-based trio of Gattuso, Pirlo and Ambrosini were just too worn out after a draining season; maybe they could've used Daniel de Rossi in there to shore things up instead. And up front, Luca Toni did his best but should have taken a lesson in goal poaching from Ruud van Nistelrooy.

As for the Netherlands, it was a bit of redemption for Marco van Basten and his tactics. Despite their supposedly suspect defence, they did a good job of snuffing out the Italian attacks, and held on to possession well as they looked for opportunities. The bottom line for them is that cliche about attack being the best form of defence.

So, what next? The Netherlands will be boosted by picking up not only three points, but also their first win over Italy in 30 years. The Italians, meanwhile, need to use this defeat to fire themselves up for their next two games. Back in 1994, they lost their first game and still went on to reach the final, so it could happen again. But the Dutch are definitely the favourites to get out of the group right now.

Romania 0-0 France
Ok, I was dead tired yesterday to start with, but that game just about put me into a coma. I think the spectators were as bored as I was, because it was pretty quiet in the stadium. Hardly surprising, when you see stats like there being a grand total of one shot on goal in the entire game (that dubious honour goes to France, by the way).

Romania, I think, may turn out to be the Greece of 2008. They're well organized defensively -- they actually had six defenders on the pitch, with two of them nominally playing in midfield -- but there's not a whole lot else going on. Adrian Mutu had some flashes where he looked good, but I suspect he's a bit distracted by the issues in his personal life right now. And anyway, this whole approach worked for Greece last time, so who knows.

France, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to turn this from the group of death into the group of soul-crushing ennui. They're desperately missing the kind of creativity they used to get from Zinedine Zidane. I'm not sure that playing two defensively minded midfielders was really necessary against a team like Romania -- not that starting Patrick Vieira instead would have helped that much, but Samir Nasri probably should have come on much earlier. Franck Ribery just can't do it all on his own. Nicolas Anelka was even more useless than Thierry Henry usually is in big games, and next to him up front, Karim Benzema was mostly shooting over the bar from 30 yards out. At least he was trying. The defenders didn't have a whole lot to do, but I think the fullbacks could've gotten forward more to beef up the attack.

Still, this could turn out to be like the last World Cup, when France limped through their group but made it all the way to the final -- or it could be like 2002, when they went out at the group stage without scoring a single goal.

Next up in Group C: Italy v. Romania and France v. Netherlands, both on Friday

Bad hair of the day award: Italy's Gianluigi Buffon, for that bizarre headband thing and the ensuing mushroom 'do. (Poor Gigi, it just wasn't his day.)

1 comment:

Ionut Puiu said...

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