Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist
from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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No funeral in Berlin as Germany advance
Two years ago I watched dumbfounded as Germany lost to a de facto Czech Republic B team in their final match of Euro 2004, which sent them spinning out of the tournament at the first round stage. To see such a giant of the game humbled in such a way was a strange experience. I had started watching Germany (or West as it was then) roughly in the middle of their purple patch from 1972-96, where they made the final in nine of the thirteen tournaments they played in. This defeat made their appearance in the 2002 World Cup final, which they reached through solitary goal wins over Paraguay, USA and South Korea, seem like a fluke. The Germans were definitely finished. Even with their progress this year they hadn’t really played anyone they weren’t expected to beat, negotiating a pretty comfortable route to the quarter-finals.
And then came Argentina in Berlin yesterday. Germany came from behind against the red hot favourites for the tournament to take the game into extra-time before emerging, with some inevitability, victorious on penalties. All credit must go to Jurgen Klinsmann, who has endured all manner of vitriol sent his way in the last two years. In placing his faith in youth, and making those young players attempt open, attacking football, he has revitalised the national team. The formula is simple – take a crop of young, hungry players, with a smattering of experience and quality, get them organised and most importantly get belief coursing through their veins and anything is possible. Just ask Greece, who under Otto Rehhagel profited handsomely with this system in Portugal two years ago.
The inclusion of Germany as one of the favourites for this World Cup seemed to be based purely on history and home advantage. With this result behind them the impossible now seems possible. If they can manufacture two victories, by whatever means, from the next two games they will be world champions, a scenario that was highly unlikely at the start of the tournament. Anyone can beat Goliath if they’ve got two pebbles and a sling, or in Germany’s case a partisan crowd and a knack for winning penalty shoot-outs. As soon as it went to penalties there appeared to be only one winner and Lehmann crowned an excellent individual performance with saves from Ayala and Cambiasso.
So what happened to Argentina? Seemingly in control of the game, they made the crucial mistake of believing that they had already won. Some bizarre coaching decisions contributed to their downfall, with Riquelme substituted after seventy minutes and the devastating Messi left on the bench for the entire game. Small wonder Pekerman quit virtually on the final whistle. One-nil is a precarious lead in any game of football, from a Sunday pub game to a World Cup quarter-final. When Klose equalised with ten minutes left they knew they’d blown it and created little from there onwards. They seemed happy to play for penalties. I know their squad is relatively young, but surely they’ve seen Germany in a shoot-out before? Leaving it to chance is always a gamble, and with this one they lost a huge hand. Fortune favours the brave, and the attack minded Klinsmann and his players are thoroughly deserved semi-finalists.
With that in mind it’s a great pity that Argentina could not extend more sportsmanlike congratulations to their opponents. Early in the tournament they gave us one of its most enduring moments with their twenty-four pass salvo that resulted in Cambiasso’s wonder goal, but in their final act they gave us it’s most nauseating. Their pathetic fighting with German players when the contest was over was born of understandable frustration but was disgraceful and utterly unnecessary. Maxi Rodriguez, one of the stars of the tournament, deserves a lengthy ban for his flying punch on Schweinsteiger. They may have wowed us for a while but if this is to be the defining image of Argentina from 2006, that of petulant, spoilt brats, they have no-one to blame but themselves.
Admirably keeping their dignity in the face of all this, Germany now move on to Dortmund to play Italy, who advanced later in the evening with a three-nil win over the Ukraine. The result was rarely in doubt after Shovkovskiy sloppily let in Zambrotta’s speculative effort after six minutes. Luca Toni added a brace in the second half and the cutting edge that was lacking in 2002 and 2004 seems to be back. Iaquinta, Inzaghi and Gilardino have all hit the target in this World Cup and rather than rely on one goal scoring saviour like a Rossi or a Schillachi the Italians are spreading the goals amongst their forwards this year.
Italy will play their first World Cup semi-final in twelve years on Tuesday and are now twenty-three games unbeaten. In this World Cup they have not conceded a goal to an opposition player, the only goal to go past Buffon being a wild miss-kick by Cristian Zaccardo in their game against the USA. The opposition has not been the most taxing so far – Ghana, USA, Czech Republic, Australia and the Ukraine – and Lippi will know he is in for a tough game now. In 1970 Italy and West Germany played out a 4-3 epic in the Azteca that still stands as one of the best games in the history of the tournament, but a similar scoreline is highly unlikely. A 4-1 win by Italy in a March friendly can also be discounted and this will be a tense, tight affair. More extra-time and penalties would not be a surprise.
Today England look to break the hold of Luiz Felipe Scolari on their progress in international tournaments. Responsible, via Brazil and Portugal, for England’s two quarter-final defeats under Sven Goran Eriksson irony could be taken to new levels today by the man who effectively quit the England job in May before being confirmed as the manager. Scolari has won all eleven of his games at the World Cup but robbed of the presence of Deco, Costinha and possibly Cristiano Ronaldo today he will need to pull something special out to secure victory number twelve.
Later tonight is the mouth-watering prospect of Brazil against France. Brazil has yet to get into top gear at this World Cup whereas France returned triumphantly to form against Spain last Tuesday. After losing in Guadalajara in 1986 and the Paris final in 1998 Brazil haven’t beaten France at the World Cup since Pele popped a hat-trick past them in the 1958 semi-final. France now have some momentum and are solid at the back and the likes of Thuram and Gallas will not stand off and watch Ronaldo and Adriano trundle into goal scoring positions like other teams have.
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