17 June 2008

NETHERLANDS 2 (Huntelaar 54, Van Persie 87)

Van Basten made nine changes but took a risk starting Van Persie and Robben, whose bones are made of glass. Marius Niculae tried to replicate Van Basten's volley from 1988 but shot well wide of Stekelenburg's left post. Van Persie was equally off target with a near post header. Bouma allowed Mutu to turn in the box but managed to block the forwards shot and it bounced across the face of goal. Mutu failed to trouble Stekelenburg from 20 yards and Robben missed from 12 after a glorious touch by Huntelaar sent him in on goal. Mutu and Rat combined down the left but Codrea blazed the fullback's centre into the stands.

Van Persie finally got a shot on target early in the second half, a great first touch allowed him to bring a long ball under control and as he turned his marker before arrowing a shot towards the bottom right corner Lobont tipped the ball to safety. Huntelaar broke the deadlock minutes later. Robben surged up the left wing but overhit his cross, Afellay rescued the ball and drilled a centre into the box which Huntelaar nonchalantly flicked into the bottom corner. Van Persie controlled de Zeeuw's crossfield pass on his chest, Contra fell over as he tackled the Arsenal striker who kept his balance before rifling a left foot shoot into the roof of the net.

An irrelevant three points and more importantly for Van Basten no injuries. Russia will be on the receiving of a thrashing should they qualify for the quarter-finals. Sweden's best chance? Penalties.

Attendance : 32,000
Assists : Afellay, De Zeeuw

ITALY 2 (Pirlo 25 Pen, Henry 62 og)

Fearing a Biscotto both teams entered the field to a subdued atmosphere. Apparently Sagnol and Thuram talked Domenech out of starting them so Clerc came in at right back and left back Abidal started at centre back.

Italy should have been out of sight inside the first 10 minutes. Under pressure from Toni, Abidal botched a clearance on a long ball and Toni ran through but shot wide. France's standout player this tournament, Ribery, went down injured when tackling Zambrotta. He didn't get back up. Coupet made a great save to keep out Panucci's goalbound header from a corner. Pirlo tested Abidal with a longball straight down the middle and he utterly failed, he fouled Toni from behind. Referee Lubos Michel, who was absolutely woeful, sent him off and Domenech bizarrely replaced Nasri, who came on as a sub for Ribery just 19 minutes earlier, with Boumsong. Pirlo smashed the ball into the top left corner. Toni missed three chances in as many minutes. He flashed a spectacular back heel volley wide of the left post, volleyed hopelessly off target following some great approach play and scuffed a shot after Perrotta played him in with a clever flick. It took the French 33 minutes to muster a noteworthy effort on goal. Toulalan thread a pass between Panucci and Chiellini to Henry but he dragged his shot wide of a post. At the other end Coupet prevented Grosso from doubling Italy's lead with a brilliant finger tip save, pushing the fullbacks free kick onto a post, Perrotta went looking for a penalty on the rebound and fell to the ground 'injured'. The Italians waited and waited for the French and the ref to stop play but they didn't so Pirlo chopped down Benzema to bring play to a halt earning himself a second yellow card and suspension from the quarter-final against Spain. To further rub salt into the wounds minutes later Evra went down injured and that f*cking idiot Lubos Michel blew for a foul. Platini sort it out, your parents would be ashamed.

In terms of goalmouth action the second half failed to match the first. The French enjoyed a good spell of possession as the Italians went into a defence shell but failed to trouble Buffon then conceded a second goal. Italy were awarded a free kick 30 yards from goal. In the absence of Pirlo, who has been substituted, De Rossi slammed the ball into the French wall and Henry lazily stuck out a foot deflecting it past Coupet. A superb curling effort from Benzema on 74 minutes was the closest France came to scoring but Buffon was equal to the youngster's shot, throwing himself across goal to make a phenomenal left handed save. Toni mustered one final chance in the third minute of injury time but his 20 yard drive was tipped onto a post. 'More Swiss Tony then Luca Toni' as Mark Lawrenson said, a joke only UK viewers will get.

Donadoni has built a team around Toni, Italy usually build a team around a fantasista or a trequartista. At the moment it's not working and Donadoni doesn't have a plan B still Italy will fancy their chances against Spain.

As for France Coupet, Thuram, Vieira, Makelele, Boumsong, Anelka and Henry should have the courage to retire from International football actually Boumsong should just retire period. As I said weeks ago Deschamps and Blanc should be the favourites to replace him with Deschamps probably getting the nod due to his greater experience and who knows maybe Zidane as his assistant? That's the logical choice but this is the French FA we're talking about and maybe they'll go for beach soccer specialist Eric Cantona instead.

Attendance : 25,000
Red Card : Abidal 25 (France)
Assists : Toni (won pen), n/a

13 June 2008

NETHERLANDS 4 (Kuyt 10, Van Persie 60, Robben 72, Sneijder 92)
FRANCE 1 (Henry 71)

Makelele should have been booked for a crude hit attack on Kuyt in the fourth minute. Kuyt got his revenge by heading the Dutch into the lead from a corner, taking advantage of ridiculous marking by Malouda, who seemed more interested in some man on man grappling. Kuyt almost punished a terrible mistake by Thuram but Evra bailed out his captain with a great block. Midway through the half the French suddenly sprang to life and wave upon wave of attack followed. Sagnol beat Van Bronckhorst on the right before driving in a centre, Govou recovered from an awful first to force VDS into a brilliant save at his near post. Makelele made sure Van der Vaart couldn't launch another counter attack after the French lost possession, with a right arm to the face earning himself a long overdue yellow card. Malouda juggled Thuram's clearing header away from Van der Vaart and Boulahrouz as they ran to close him down, he threaded a ball to Ribery who played a superb first time centre into the box, Evra cut the ball back to Henry who kicked fresh air and Govou broke into the box and shot straight at VDS. Makelele intercepted a pass deep in his half and drove forward, running through a sliding tackle before passing to Ribery, Ribery ran into the box and checked inside Ooijer and De Jong before striking a weak shot into Van der Sar's grateful arms. On the right flank Govou collected a throw in and held off two defenders before slipping a pass between their legs to Ribery, he flashing a centre across goal which Henry once again failed to meet. Such was France's dominance in midfield Makelele made another run deep into the opposition half before playing a ball into Henry who hit a shot on the turn wide of VDS's right post. To the relief of the Dutch the half time whistle soon followed.

Van Basten switched things around at half time. Substituting Engelaar for Robben and pushing Sneijder in support of RVN. The Dutch playing 4-4-2? That must be a first! The change had little effect as the French continued to dominate. Henry skinned Ooijer on the edge of the box and his deflected cross was kicked off Ribery's feet by Boulahrouz. Following a series of deflections from a free kick Henry lashed at shot at goal, Ooijer turned away and threw himself at the ball volleying it clear with his left hand but the ref waving away French appeals for a penalty. Henry missed France's clearest chance to equalise four minutes later. Malouda's overhead kick sent Henry in on goal but, just as Toni did in the opening match, he lobbed high over the bar. Shocking miss. Van Basten made a last throw of the dice, replacing the tireless Kuyt with Van Persie and switching to his nations classic 4-3-3 tactic. The move reaped instant dividends. Van der Vaart headed on a throw in to Van Nistelrooy who did a 360 degree Bergkamp style pirouette away from Makelele and Toulalan, with a brilliant first Robben took the ball away from Makelele and powered upfield leaving the French trailing in his wake, he put on the breaks, whipped the ball into the box and Van Persie volleyed through Coupet's hands. VDS punched out a deflected Ribery shot and Gomis, who looked terrible, smashed the rebound into the stands. The Dutch defence was finally breeched on 71 minutes. Sagnol ran over RVN as he tried to bring a goal kick under control, played a one-two with Govou and arched a centre to Henry who flicked the ball into the bottom left corner. Any hopes of a comeback were quickly dashed. While the replays were still being shown Sneijder rolled a pass inside Sagnol to Robben, he ran at Thuram and from the most improbable of angles fired a left foot missile into the roof of Coupet's net. Absolutely incredible. Five minutes later Henry made awful contact with a Ribery free kick as the fight, finally began to fade from a brave French side. Coupet's fingertip save denied Van Nistelrooy a second goal. In the last minute Van Nistelrooy held up possession, collecting a pass out of defence but instead of running to the corner flag checked inside Thuram before passed to De Jong, De Jong squared to Van Persie, he passed to Sneijder who with his back to goal turned away from Toulalan and hammered a right foot shot in off the underside of the crossbar.

Once against the Dutch were out-shot (23-16) but once again were stone cold killers in front of goal. The Dutch were battered either side of half time before Van Basten's switch to 4-3-3 gave them relief on the break. The man is showing signs of being as much of a genius on the bench as he was on the pitch. An absolutely breathless game of football, an all time classic. For the last half hour I was on my feet screaming as every goal went in. Are the Netherlands the Brazil of 1970 or the Brazil of 1982? Over the next fortnight we'll find out.

Van Basten is almost certainly gong to rest many of his key players ahead of the quarter-finals which could make France vs Italy one of most epic and, at the same time, anti-climatic games in the history of this tournament.

Attendance : 32,000
Assists : van der Vaart (ck), Robben, Sagnol, Sneijder, Van Persie

ITALY 1 (Panucci 56)
ROMANIA 1 (Mutu 54)

Constant pressure by the Italians forced the first of many, many chances. Del Piero was crowded out in the box as he brought a Camoranesi pass under control, Perotta cleverly chipped the ball back to him but Goian headed his goalbound header out for a corner. Toni missed an absolute sitter when Camoranesi and Grosso combined down the left, the Juve midfielder providing a superb cross. Panucci gave away possession with an overhit pass and a Romanian midfielder sent Mutu down the left, Chiellini tracked his former Juventus team-mate, forcing him to shoot from a wide angle drawing a brilliant save out of Buffon. Camoranesi brought down a Goian clearance on his chest before finding Grosso in acres of space on the left with a brilliant lofted pass, Grosso brought the ball under control, took a step back and measured a cross to the back post and once again Toni header wide. Buffon got down to parry a Tamas free kick struck from absolutely miles out and minutes later he was beaten all ends up from another Romania free kick when Chivu's drive was deflected onto a post by Panucci and Zambrotta hacked clear. There was an ugly clash of heads when Radoi and Rat challenged for the ball. Radoi was carted off and replaced by playmaker Dica. Toni chested down a Del Piero cross and just as Perrotta was about to pull the trigger Siena's Codrea denied him with a last ditch tackle. Italy won three consecutive corners, Lobont tipped over from Chiellini, made a miraculous save to push a Toni header against a post then bravely dived at the feet of Chiellini as he attacked a Toni header. In first half injury time Italy were hosed on another offside call. Camoranesi played a short corner to Zambrotta, the Romanian defence pushed up, Del Piero was standing in a (passive) offside position as Toni headed into the net but the goal was disallowed. The President of the FIGA (Italian FA) Giancarlo Abete was furious after the match :

"I think UEFA at the highest level wanted to confirm Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s goal was valid, so they won’t have a problem confirming that the errors today were indeed mistakes. It would be very strange to do otherwise."

Good luck on that one. Just as chances dried up in the second half the wretched Zambrotta decided to give a helping hand to the Romanians. Zambrotta underhit a backpass, Mutu ran in on the blindside and slammed the ball into the roof of the net. Italy got a quick equaliser. Chiellini headed down a Del Piero corner and Panucci, standing between four Romanians, ran past them to poke the ball into the net. Del Grosso (twice) and De Rossi made last ditch tackles in the box. In the 80th minute to everyone's amazement the ref awarded a penalty to Romania. Replays showed Panucci had wrestled Niculae to the ground. A nervy Mutu stepped up and drilled his penalty down the middle, Buffon got a strong right hand to the ball then immediately kicked clear as the Italian fans erupted in celebration. Late on in their desperation Grosso and Toni went to ground looking for penalties.

Donadoni got his tactics right on this one but was let down by Toni's treacherous finishing. De Rossi, Chiellini and Grosso were fantastic as was Buffon who made up for a poor display against the Dutch. Why oh why didn't Donadoni play this formation in the first match? Toni should get no more than 45 minutes against the French. Borriello deserves a chance.

Attendance : 30,000
Assists : n/a, Chiellini

9 June 2008

NETHERLANDS 3 (Van Nistelrooy 26, Sneijder 31, van Bronckhorst 79)

Di Natale got free down the right after Van Bronckhorst was tackled when carrying the ball out of defence, Toni heading for the near post but the Udinese forward overhit his cross. Minutes later Toni missed what was by his standards a great chance, heading wide after good work by Panucci, Camoranesi and Gattuso. The Dutch then quickly took control. Zambrotta got too tight to Kuyt allowing him to turn and slide a pass between Italy's centre backs, RVN lost his balance as he rounded Buffon and, forced wide, his cross was cleared. A mistake by Buffon (and a linesman) gave the Dutch the lead. Buffon should have punched a van der Vaart free kick out for a corner but sent it back into play, taking out Panucci in the process, Mathijsen laid the ball back to Sneijder and his fierce drive was re-directed past Buffon by RVN who was standing miles offside. On the half hour mark Van Bronckhorst hacked the ball off his goal-line when defending a corner and the Dutch launched one of the all time great counter attacks. Sneijder passed to Van der Vaart and he sent Van Bronckhorst clear down the left, Panucci, who should have been covering, was in his own half for the Italy corner, Van Bronckhorst hit a crossfield pass to Kuyt, Zambrotta failed to get tight, allowing Kuyt to head the ball down to Sneijder and he volleyed past Buffon who had strayed yards from his near post. Van Nistelrooy ran between Zambrotta and Materazzi onto a glorious van der Vaart through pass but was denied by Buffon. It's about time he made a save.

Within seconds of replacing the ineffective Camoranesi, Cassano created an opening for Toni but having ran clear of the defence his normally reliable first touch let him down. Grosso, another second half sub, got in behind the Dutch defence for the second time in as many minutes but his shot was saved and eventually cleared. Del Piero won a free kick as Italy enjoyed their best spell of the match. Pirlo's free kick was brilliantly saved by Van der Sarr and once again Italy were suckered on the break. Van Persie and Sneijder spread the ball out to the right before Sneijder sent the rampaging van Bronckhorst between Gattuso and Pirlo, van Bronckhorst squared to an unmarked Kuyt and his shot was parried, Kuyt chased down the rebound and dropped a cross into the centre circle and Van Bronckhorst headed in a cruel third.

Donadoni has the options on the bench to get his team out of this mess. Zambrotta you F*CKING SUCK. Gamberini has to start at centre back alongside Chiellini and Grosso instead of the wretched, wretched Zambrotta. Donadoni showed too much faith in the Milan midfield trio. De Rossi and Gattuso had been working fine in the run up to the tournament. Buffon was at fault for the first two goals. The Dutch won't have the element of surprise on corners again but they've got the players to rip holes through any defence.

Men of the Match : Van Bronckhorst & Kuyt

Is Van Bronckhorst going to be this tournaments Zagorakis?

Attendance : 31,000
Assists : Sneijder, Kuyt, Kuyt


This match was an absolute shitfest. The only real chance fell late in the first half to Anelka on the one occasion the Romanians switched off in defence. Ribery worked a short corner with Makelele and whipped a low cross into the box, the ball bounced up towards Anelka but he wastefully headed over from 12 yards.

I was impressed with Romania's centre backs, Goian and Tamas, though that may have been as a consequence of the anaemic French attack.

Attendance : 30,000
Assists : n/a