Euro 2004: First Round, Group C, Day 2

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
June 18th, 2004 • 11:23 am

The Italy – Sweden game was brilliant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 1-1 draw that was that exciting. It pretty much had everything, from Italy’s superb performance in the first half to the embarrassing misses by Vieri to the questionable tactics of the Italian coach, who went for defensive play too early into the second half, when Italy should still have been pressing for another goal. Then Sweden tried to put the pressure on, but it’s only when Edman, a defense player, was replaced by Allback and Sweden switched to a 4-pronged attack that all hell broke loose. The thing is, they could afford to take that risk, because the Italian coach had pretty much reduced his own attack to nil.

Larsson, who, until then, had been pretty much uninvolved, suddenly became the creator for Sweden, and the wonderful attack that he built was only foiled by a superb save by Buffon. And then there was Ibrahimovic. He had featured prominently in the opening game against Bulgaria (5-0), but the question was whether he would be able to play a similar role against much stiffer opposition. Well, he didn’t really, but he never gave up — and his outrageous goal 5 minutes from time was a moment of anthology. The Swedish pressure was almost unbearable, but if there was one defense that could withstand it, it was the Italians. Sweden got a corner kick, the ball floated in the air, bouncing off a few heads, Ljunberg was unceremoniously brought down, and then Ibrahimovic stretched himself to the limit and attempted the impossible — and he pulled it off! Vieiri, for once, was unable to put his head to the ball, and it landed right into the top corner above him. Unbelievable. Without doubt, the goal of the tournament so far — and probably of the entire tournament, whatever happens next.

The last five minutes of the game were predictably crazy, with Italy desperately chasing another goal that would bring them back into the lead, and Sweden obviously short on defense-minded players. One more glorious miss by Vieri, and it was all over.

To me, the cherry on the cake was the wonderful and spontaneous embrace between Buffon and Ibrahimovic after the final whistle — clearly the expression of mutual admiration and respect. Apart from a few ugly fouls by the Italians during their ultra-defensive period (for which they were ultimately punished), the game was played in a great spirit. It was international competition at its best.

I should also mention the great performances of the Italian left back and right back, Panucci and Zambrotta. They both performed admirably in defense and contributed in no small part to the Italian threat in the first half. It was very impressive and, until the Swedish equalizer (which might not have happened, even though Sweden deserved it), Italy definitely looked a transformed team, one that might be capable to go all the away.

Now, however, there will be more questions asked, especially about the Italian coach’s tactics. They might end up costing him dearly — although there is little doubt that Italy is capable of beating Bulgaria in the final game. Because of the result of the other game, however (a rather boring victory for Denmark over Bulgaria), a draw between Denmark and Sweden would see both teams get through and Italy eliminated. A scary prospect!

4 Responses to “Euro 2004: First Round, Group C, Day 2”

  1. Warren Beck says:

    What a goal. How in the world did Ibrahimovic find a way to hit the ball with the outside of his right foot while inverted five or six feet in the air with his head pointing toward the goal line, and then having done that how did he find a way to direct the ball _just_ over Vieiri’s head? The expression of desperation on Vieiri’s face as he jumped for the ball was classic; it took a lot of self-control I’m sure to keep from using his hands to slap it away, but I guess he couldn’t afford a red card. Just an unbelievable sequence. I think that Americans who don’t enjoy professional soccer should see a tape of that game. Quite a tournament so far. I’m looking forward to the next round for sure.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I think Ibrahimovic would be the first to admit that it was an outrageous attempt :-). It’s probably the kind of thing that only works once in a thousand times. But you have to have the nerve to try it, especially in such tense circumstances.

    I agree that the whole game was fantastic. It had everything.

    I must correct my final statement, though. A draw between Denmark and Sweden wouldn’t necessarily eliminate Italy. It’s actually quite complicated. More here.

  3. vaag says:

    You obviously haven’t seen that many matches of Ibrahimovic in recent years. Ibrahimovic’s play is always full of inimitable movements.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    Well, there is only so much football that you can watch! The beautiful thing about competitions such as Euro 2004 is that they give people the opportunity to discover other players and become interested in other teams. I don’t see what’s wrong with being only a recent discoverer of the talent of Ibrahimovic. I’m glad to hear that he is such a good player. I’ll try to see more of him in the future, of course.

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