Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Italians ease into last four.

Italy 3-0 Ukraine.

This was one of those quarter finals you sat there thinking this game was more appropriate for the second round or even the group stages. Right from kick off Ukraine always appeared as though they would be eliminated here, and that the Italians would progress. I also sat there thinking that Switzerland (whom Ukraine defeated on penalties in the previous round) would probably have made a better fist of it. My reason for this thought was that the Swiss are an excellent defensive side. They did not concede any goals at the world cup in five games, and would have had more of a chance at containing the Italians. They had been knocked out though because they lacked attacking prowess even though Frei and Barnetta had been impressive at times, and then given the knock-out punch by lacking the bottle when it came down to penalties. They had been consistent all tournament and could have made quite a game of it. The Ukraine on the other hand had been inconsistent. An at times abject 4-0 loss to an on song Spain, a 4-0 demolition of a sorry Saudi Arabia, and a turgid 0-0 draw with the Tunisians reflected their group stages. They had to hope that the version of the Ukraine team was a Shevchenko on top form, backed up by an inspired Voronin and Kalinichenko, and a resolute defence. In short they had to play the game of their lives.

All thus far has been conjecture. Some would call it pointless conjecture. The fact of the matter is that Switzerland did not defeat the Ukraine, therefore let us not worry our little heads about these hypothetical scenarios and focus on the real deal. My head is and always will be full of hypothetical scenarios though I suppose, so forgive me when I occasionally drift into Fantasia Land!

So on to the match:

Italy attacked from the offset, Camoranesi with a dangerous run and shot on 4 minutes, followed by the opening goal on 6 as Zambrotta smashed in at the near post, Shovkovskiy managing to get a hand on it, but the power produced the goal. In truth Ukraine looked nervous from the offset and gave the Italians too much room. The last 30 minutes of the first half was very unmemorable with both sides managing only a couple of wayward efforts on goal. Shevchenko was being tightly marshalled by the Italian defence and only on rare occasions throughout the match did it seem he would trouble Italy.

Early second half showed some new life breathed into the game. Toni scuffed a shot before the Ukraine had their best spell of the match. Gusin's excellent header, and Gusev's shot from point-blank range, were both tremendously saved from Buffon. Buffon, as usual, was on fire. It could so easily have been the equaliser and a whole different ball game. Yet sport is a cruel beast and within minutes who would become victors became even more clear, as Toni broke his World Cup 2006 duck as he stooped low to head the Italians into a 2 goal lead. Totti the provider. Ukraine had another chance to pull one back, this time Gusin thwarted by the crossbar, indicating that this was just not going to be Ukraine's night. And then again, Toni added a third to put the icing on the cake, giving Italy an unassailable lead, tapping into an empty net after good work from Zambrotta.

Cannavaro was my man of the match with a sensational display at the heart of defence.

Italy, with a useful attack, a solid defence, and an amazing goalkeeper could go all the way. But Ukraine did have approximately 3 chances which could so easily have gone in, and this will give the Germans hope for their encounter. Ukraine go home, Shevchenko never quite delivering on the world stage, although lacking in service. They did do very well for a team at their first world cup, however they were aided by an easy group, followed by a not incredibly daunting second round tie.

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