What if Frank Ribery did not get injured? What if Abidal did not see red? These will be two questions that will be asked about this game more than any others. Both very valid questions. For Ribery had looked good for the couple of touches he had before his injury and France did match Italy most of the way in spite of going down to 10 men.
It will be easy to give a lot of Italians a high rating based on their performance forgetting that they were playing against 10 men. Especially de Rossi and Cassano who did look much improved versions from the game against Romania. However, both had not had much influence before the 25th minute sending off.
Not so for Pirlo. He was at his best from the word go. Collecting passes, distributing balls in midfield and creating chances for Toni. It was one such lobbed ball over the defence that earned Italy the penalty and Abidal the red card. My man-of-the-match Pirlo did the necessary scoring to give Italy the lead.
The ones who did not improve for Italy were Perrotta and Toni. Perrotta quite frankly does not look up for it in this tournament though having not seen much of him in the past, it would be foolish to suggest that he should stay on the bench till it ends.
Toni showed his best and worst in a span of 90 minutes. We knew he can head long balls towards goal, but we also saw how he can absolutely hassle defenders with strength and pace when chasing or receiving balls on the ground. But his finishing....can’t be the same guy who scored almost 40 goals this season. The plus for Donadoni is that the day Toni starts knocking them in, he’ll probably get half a dozen in a game.
Italian defence – looked alright but then again the opposition’s reduced numbers should be remembered. Panucci is dependable and provides great attacking threat in the box (only a goal line clearance by Makelele stopped him scoring a second in the tourney). Without Cannavaro and of course Maldini/Nesta, he seems to have stepped up to the role of the defence general. Chiellini was ok though he let Henry slip by once. The fullbacks were delightful in attack and just about reasonable in defence. Guilty of letting Benzema get too close to the box a number of times though.
Donadoni was a lucky man for the night though I will never understand the reason for taking Pirlo off with 35 minutes to go. It’s not as if he needed to be rested as he is suspended for the next game anyway.
And what of France. First lost Ribery and then the red card to Abidal meant having to take off Nasri (what a chance it would have been to get a good look at him). Benzema carried the team with brilliant support from Toulalan and even Makelele putting in a close to peak performance.
Two players could still have swung it for France I thought:
· Henry, if he could have been 80% of his Gunner avatar
· Govou, if he had played a little bit deeper to reduce Benzema’s work load and put in the same effort as Benzema
It wasn’t to be. The second goal for Italy came when France were at their best (throughout the tournament) and more or less finished them off. Evra had another ordinary game (another whatif – What if Boumsong had started in the centre and Abidal at left-back?) and Clerc replacing Sagnol did a much better job than his predecessor.
So France are out and will face the music back home. Domenech must go and so will a number of players. I believe it is time for Henry to quit international football as well and let the team rebuild around Ribery, Benzema, Nasri and company. He could keep the option open of coming back to help if France are in trouble with the world cup qualifiers just like Zidane, Makelele etc. had done a few years ago.
Italy will face Spain and they will have to change a few things. For one – the finishing will have to be better but more importantly, the defensive midfield will have to work harder. Cannot allow Xavi and company space to come close to the box and feed Torres and Villa. Pirlo and Gattusso are suspended so the midfield will change again. Camoranesi MUST start and de Rossi will after yesterday’s performance. The rest will be from Aquilani, Ambrosini and Perrotta – none of whom have impressed though the first two had limited playing time yesterday.