Started this game a few minutes late as I arrived from a side trip to a local attraction (have to see some of the historical attractions at some point). Then caught this first game in my hotel room while packing for my Salzburg train the next morning. Did not sense much action at the fan mile for this game either.
I mean should be a no brainer that France clobbers the one man team Mutu of Romania. Right? Well not so. Basically the French were surprisingly weak on attack, but then maybe that should not be a surprise. Without Zidane, they clearly don’t have many offensive threats in the midfield. Malouda is fast and has good professional experience, but he has no one to work with on the left. If he uses his holding midfielder Makelele; it is a lost cause. Great defender, but not a threat as a passer in tight spaces. Or crosses. Patrick Viera missing is another loss on the offensive front. And look, you got to love Ribery. He is very skilled and a workhorse, but he simply had no one to move the ball forward to without Viera or Zindane. France have strikers (Anelka/Benzema/Henry) to get the job done, yet they are lacking the set ups from the midfielders. Also, with Sangnol, Gallas, Thuram, Abidal (and Mak in front), they still have one of the best defenses in the world. As for Romania, let’s face it Mutu is all they have. The only reason why they got some chances in 2nd half was because France’s aging defenders got a little tired. Anyway, for France to have a shot to win the Euro this year, they need Viera back and have to replace Malouda with a better midfielder (say Flamini?).
So the much awaited Group of Death match. Clearly, this was to be considered the best match in the tourney thus far. So I finished packing and went back out to the streets. I found a nice big pub that served food and scoped out the TV scene. Let me tell you that one of the negatives to the fan mile is that almost all restaurants can not show the game inside. This is so that all the street vendors in the fan mile get business. But even if you get wasted for the duration of the two games and stand (6-11:30) at some point you want to drink, eat, and watch games sitting down at a bar. Anyway, this bar had all kinds of people. There were lots of Swedes, Russians (for upcoming group games in Innsbruck). There were also Holland fans, Italians fans and a couple Austrian fans (of course only a few). The Italian fans came out because Innsbruck was at one point ruled by Italians and now has a lot of people with Italian heritage living there. Regardless, these Austrians just wanted to support a winning team. The bar was big and was in between a German Braue Haus (with a beer garden in back and patio seating in front) and an American college bar inside with DJ and shot girls, etc.
To the game…. Let me just leave you with a few words that will describe why the Italians got worked by the fancy Duchies…
Look we can talk about how the defense let up 3 goals. However, they have a similar problem as France-weak midfield without their main midfield playmaker running along with Pirlo. Let’s face it Pirlo had Gattuso and Ambrosini to work with in the middle. Both are more defensive minded midfielders (Ambro 0 goals in 30 caps, Gatusso 1 goal in 57 caps). Daniele Di Rossi should have started over Ambrosini. Also, you need a good second striker/attacking winger to distract defenders from Luca Toni. Di Natale, Italy’s new replacement for Del Piero was a joke. Del Piero is older now (34) and may not be able to play a full 90 min. But Di Natale is no spring chicken either. At 31, this guy has only been capped 17 times. Del Piero should have started and subbed around 70 min. This is trouble for Italy if they have depend on a 31 year old. But the fact of the matter is, most of Italy’s strikers are very old (Toni-31, Del Piero-34, Inzaghi-35, Iaquinta, Di Natale-31) and the younger guys have very little national experience (Borriello 26, 2 caps) (Quagliarella 25, 8 caps).
As for the Dutch-what can I say? They looked unstoppable. Not only were they solid on the attack and controlling the ball, but they beat Italy tactically by putting man to man pressure in the mid field. This was risky and could have led to counter attacks. Anyway, can we talk about how nasty Sneijder is? I mean, he is great at Real Madrid, but for Real, he is given parameters. He was let loose by van Basten and this guy not only produced the best goal of the Euro thus far, but also has been the best midfielder in the tourney. Van Nistelrooy does not work hard for the ball and needs a good set up man. This is why Nistelrooy played great as well. Don’t forget Ruud has historically not played well for the national team and was benched at one point by van basten in 2006.
Their defense played above average; considering this is their biggest weakness. France should give them a tough match since their defense is stronger than Italy’s. Holland will be in the next round for sure. Lastly, let’s hope other teams step up and play similar to Holland; with most games having one goal scored, Holland showed you can play attacking beautiful football while playing agressive defense.
Off to Salzburg to see the Greece v Sweden match in the stadium.