Euro 2008 Qualifications: France 3 – Italy 1

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
September 7th, 2006 • 10:49 am

It was, in many respects, a wonderful game to watch. There was, of course, an important emotional and psychological dimension to the match, but the early goal helped release the tension and defuse the situation, and the speed and energy with which the French players played after that and for most of the rest of the game was quite exhilarating.

Of course, the Italians will argue that, physically speaking, they were not ready, because the Italian season starts later, etc. But Patrick Vieira plays in Italy too, and he didn’t seem to suffer from a lack of physical preparation at all. So that argument is far from convincing. They were also missing some of their key players from the World Cup, for various reasons, but Zidane is no longer part of the France side either, and they too had to adjust to this new reality.

To me, this game confirmed that the French team was definitely the superior team on the whole this year, just like they were in the second half of the World Cup final. They were even better last night than they were during that second half, and there is little doubt in my mind that yesterday, they would have beaten even a better prepared Italian team with all their key players.

Now, why couldn’t they do this in the World Cup final? The question lingers… In a way, Zidane’s departure seems to have liberated the players. Zidane played a key role during the World Cup, of course, but that World Cup also showed a team with many other high quality players, and their success obviously gave them the confidence that they could be a top-class team even without their talismanic captain.

This is not to say that the French would have been better off without Zidane in the World Cup final, of course. You can’t rewrite history, and you cannot ignore the role that Zidane played in getting them there, and even in the final itself. It was just this paradoxical situation where Zidane was both an asset and a liability at the same time. That’s just the way it was. It couldn’t happen any other way.

The key thing now will be to maintain this momentum all the way through to the Euro 2008 competition itself. There are still many qualification games to play (10) between now and November 2007, and lots of things can happen. But this performance, following the World Cup success, confirms that the doubters after the disastrous 2002 World Cup and the disappointing Euro 2004 competition were wrong: In the past 10 years, France has definitely become one of the great international teams, and also one of those that play the most attractive and entertaining football.

The Italians might have their “four stars,” but they have never had such a quality. Their quality is defensive play, and when it comes to offensive, attacking football, there is obviously a culture of simulation and theatrics in that country that will always damper the enthusiasm of anyone who might want to support them. There were a couple of ridiculous incidents again last night that were downright shameful. Fortunately, the quality of the French team made them irrelevant, but they were ridiculous and shameful just the same, and it’s something that simply cannot be condoned.

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