Thursday, July 06, 2006

Auf Wiedersehn

Italy 0-0 Germany, 2-0 aet

A fantastic game of football that was open and exciting, as well as exhibiting magnificent defence. It was a game that managed to show a lot that is wonderful about the beautiful game. And thankfully it was Italy who were the victors, the hosts eliminated.

Italy had the best of the first half. Perrotta was played clean through by Totti, but Lehmann smothered the ball as his first touch was disappointing. Totti had a free kick deflected into Lehmann's grateful arms. The Italians, with a reputation mostly based on miserly defence, were signalling their attacking intent early, perhaps hopeful to avoid penalties for which they have a poor record, and the Germans have a fantastic one (they have scored 18/19 penalties in world cups winning each of their world cup shoot outs). The first half ended with a few Italian half chances, the best of which saw Camoranesi head over from a Pirlo free kick. The Germans also had a few opportunities as Ballack had a shot swerve just wide, Podolski had a shot blocked, and tellingly Schneider had a gilt edged opportunity - bearing down on the right hand edge of the box, in plenty of space, his shot went fizzing over the bar much to the Italians collective relief.

The second half saw the Germans step up their tempo. Klose barged strongly into the box only for the brave Buffon to provide the rescue relief, diving in at his feet, spreading wide and making himself impenetrable. 10 minutes later some nice build up play saw Podolski in the box, the ball at his feet and the goal as well as the tight marking of Materazzi behind him. An incisive turn gave him the opportunity to shoot but Buffon's reflexes soon quelled the danger. The ball rebounded to Friedrich who had a terrible shot go well over. Then there was a period of no goalmouth activity until first Pirlo had a long range effort easily dealt with, Ballack sent a free kick in a great position inches over the bar, and then finally Perrotta thought he'd made the perfectly timed run only for Lehamann to foil, fisting the dangerous through ball away to safety.

And then it was extra time. The 90 minutes had seen a tense exciting encounter, what were the next 30 to bring?

Lots of action! Italy from being the better team in the first half, to worst in the second, again saw themselves in the ascendancy as Italy hit the woodwork twice within 60 seconds of each other. Gilardino expertly jinked back onto his left foot and promptly delivered a shot which beat Lehmann but came back off the inside of the post. It was desperately unlucky. Then Germany only half cleared a corner, only for Zambrotta to sweetly strike a 20 yard effort, agonisingly shaking the crossbar on the way over the goal. To have such bad luck it seemed like it would be destiny for Germany to go on and win the game, most likely on penalties. The last seconds of the first half of extra time saw Odonkor find the unmarked head of Podolski in a great position, only for him to miss the target by some distance! On 111 minutes Germany broke once more, this time Podolski forced Buffon into a stupendous one-handed tip over, a real let off for the Italians. Del Piero then hit a shot wide of the right hand post from 20 yards after some exciting Italian build up play, and then Lehmann saved well from Pirlo as he lashed in a ferocious 25 yard drive.

Extra time had been the most entertaining stage of the match, and then it just got a whole lot more exciting.

A penalty shoot out was impending, it seemed almost inevitable that after almost 120 minutes of good attacking play, but even better defence which negated each other, that the outcome would have to require penalties.

However on 119 minutes the Germans headed away a corner only for it to land at the feet of Pirlo who made a spectacularly incisive pass into the path of fullback Grosso who belted it instantaneously, without a second thought. The ball curled in, nestling perfectly in the corner of the goal leaving Lehmann with no chance. The man who had won a controversial penalty against Australia scored the first goal in a world cup semi-final with virtually one minute left on the clock.

The hosts desperately pressed for an equaliser but instead a speedy Italian breakaway saw them put the icing on the cake. Gilardino executed the perfect reverse pass for Del Pierro to execute the perfect postage stamp lob to send the whole of Italy into delirium.

Both teams contributed to an excellent match but overall the Italians just deserved it. Cannavaro was absolutely immense at the back, and Buffon also deserves many plaudits for a top class game. Gattusso was everywhere in the midfield. A great defence and some exciting forward players giving Italy a combination that sends them flying to the world cup final.

For Germans despair, but they can be very proud of their campaign. Lehmann had a top match and Klose may end up with the consolation of the golden shoe as he sits atop the standings still with 5. It was a great advertisement for the game (despite the inevitable few dives, notably from Podolski and Totti). Lahm has done exceptionally well at left back and Klinsmann has proved himself as a manager although it was an interesting call to start with Borowski ahead of Schweinsteiger. Odonkor showed his worth coming off the bench too to cause Italy problems.

A great game and Italy worthy victors, with 2 fantastic goals to seal their place in the World Cup Final 2006.

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