World Cup 2006: France 1 – Portugal 0

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
July 5th, 2006 • 5:35 pm

One thing is for sure: It wasn’t pretty. And it wasn’t particularly impressive either. France did have a good spell in the first half, and in the beginning of the second half, but other than that they played a pretty risky game of letting the Portuguese dominate possession and didn’t really do much on the counter-attack either.

In the end, they just barely scraped through, in rather unconvincing fashion. After the performances against Spain and Brazil, it was a pretty big disappointment. The spectre of the team that we saw in the early stages of the tournament reared its ugly head again, and it obviously will take a much better performance to beat Italy on Sunday.

The penalty was a bit on the soft side, but it involved the second trailing leg of the defender, and that’s always a danger in those situations. Thierry Henry did make the most of it, but there was contact, and it was unlawful. Besides, when it comes to theatrics, the Portuguese won hands down in this game. The number of blatant dives in the penalty area was just unbelievable. They were very fortunate that the referee didn’t book any of the players for diving—although of course it makes little difference now that they are not going to the final.

In that respect, the French players are also to be commended for not letting the Portuguese comedians wind them up too much. Thuram had an excellent game in defense and the rest was pretty solid, with the exception of Abidal, who looked very shaky indeed and was a bit fortunate that none of his mistakes led to anything really dangerous. Hopefully it was just because he was a bit overwhelmed by the occasion, and he’ll recover his composure for the final.

The good thing about the referee’s restraint is also that none of the key players who were on yellow cards was booked, so they won’t miss the final. Only Louis Saha now has two yellow cards and is suspended, but he could hardly have been expected to play a significant role in the final anyway.

The bigger concern for the French team now is that they might run out of juice. There’ll be a lot of work to recover between now and Sunday, especially considering that the Italians will have had an extra day of rest. This semi-final also reminded me of the second leg of the Champions’ League semi-final between Villareal and Arsenal, where the Gunners only just made it through, despite producing one of their worst performances of the tournament. But the comparison has its limits: The young guns of Arsenal could be suspected of being a bit overawed, but that certainly can’t have been a problem for the likes of Zidane, Thuram, and Makelele.

In any case, let’s just hope that the final is a better game, and that the French team doesn’t suffer the same fate as Arsenal did in the final of the Champions’ League, after coming so close to victory.

The tricky thing is that, as the game between Germany and Italy demonstrated yesterday, the Italians easily rival the Portuguese when it comes to play-acting. The number of faked injuries in that game was just scandalous. It only takes a referee who’s a bit too easily fooled to ruin a game because of this. We want a game of real football with the two teams giving it a go—but with the Italians it’s always likely to be another low-scoring affair, with a real risk of penalty kicks. Still, who knows? The beauty of all this is that it is all rather unpredictable, as France’s unexpected success in this tournament has shown.

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