Tuesday, July 04, 2006

FIFA World Cup Semifinals: Preview

The 2006 FIFA World Cup semi-finals has assumed an all Euro attire for the first time since 1982. Missing will be the Latin American fireworks. But that's life. That's World Cup. That's football celebrating the twists and turns of the mousetrap.

Germany, Italy, France and Portugal. The last four standing. Only one, Portugal, has never won the Cup or appeared in the Finals.

In my previous post I picked Germany and Portugal — tight calls that appear borderline ridiculous upon closer inspection of their competitive match records. Germany has never won against Italy in six tries, and Portugal has yet to register a victory against France in their two meetings.

And yet, I am convinced, the exceptions will overrule the norms, this time.

Germany has the most refreshing look. Jurgen Klinsmann has aired a mint of freshness in an environment polluted by the profligate Erikssons of the world. It is exciting to watch him transform a completely mediocre side into world beaters. No, he hasn't done it with any magic potion, nor he has done with drawing board X's and O's. He simply works within a system that makes everyone comfortable and letting them have fun in the middle.

Unlike their flashy models of BMW and Mercedes, team Germany has always been the epitome of efficiency and durability of the Civics and Corollas. And Klinsmann, to his credit, has successfully blended their dogged approach with a flair of attacking football, thus creating a vibrant force that could challenge the very best in the business.

Italy, on the heels of match-fixing controversy is trying to rewrite their own destiny, and restore some of the lost reputation if not too late. Their bread and butter is defense. Suffocating and swarming defense. I will be extremely surprised if they show a measurable departure from their long held tradition.

The probable difference makers: Lucas Podolsky of Germany and Francesco Totti of Italy.

In the other game, France has earned an honorable nomination with wrinkles after knocking out Spain and Brazil. But this is as far as they could have possibly advanced in their wildest dreams. It's time they make way for the Portuguese to their first ever trip to the finals.

Portugal has played with more passion and sense of urgency than anyone else but didn't win many friends with their home cooked tackles, flops and attitude.

Perhaps it's not fair to single them out because every team has been guilty of shameless play-acting with France and Italy, being the biggest beneficiaries in the pre-quarter finals.

It's only fitting that Portugal gets a taste of the finals and finally the championship in what could become a memorable swan song for none other than the great Luis Figo.

The probable difference makers: Thierry Henry of France and Deco of Portugal

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