Italy-France: in a 0-0 draw, the real victors are tension, fear, and a lot of boredom

A lot of hype, considerable pre-game preparation (both physically, tactically, and psychologically) but on the big day, this clash of World Cup finalist titans for the Euro 2008 qualifiers left a lot to be desired. The 82,000 spectators of San Siro stadium surely expected something more out of this match, which in the end gave both teams a single point, one that the French team will take with a welcome hand, because it puts them ahead of their direct rivals Scotland (+1) and Italy (+2). When push came to shove, instead of playing for the win, both Italy and France essentially played to avoid the loss, and considering this match was on home soil for the Italians, they should have tried a bit harder.

Italy-France final score

Few surprises concerning the tactical line-ups of both teams. Donadoni fielded the expected 4-1-4-1 formation (the same I predicted in yesterday’s post, with the exception of De Rossi substituting Ambrosini in midfield), with Del Piero and Camoranesi wide on the wings to support the lone striker Pippo Inzaghi. Domenech on the other hand mixed up the cards a little bit, by removing Evra from the starting lineup, inserting Julien Escudé in center defence, and placing Lassana Diarra as a right-back (an uncommon role for the Chelsea midfielder, but one he had to chance to try a few times at his new club). Up front, no surprises in not seeing Trezeguet start the match (his relationship with Domenech still iffy), the striker tandem was formed by Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka.

The Azzurri supporters honoured Pavarotti’s memory SaturdayAfter a rocky pre-game ritual (in which the touching moments of remembrance for deceased tenor Luciano Pavarotti, was followed by the shameful booing of the French national anthem by the San Siro stadium), the match immediately set off to a very tense showdown, in which none of the players of either team were pulling any punches. Only 3 minutes had passed before Claude Makelele got into the book for elbowing Del Piero, a clear indication that Les Bleus meant business in San Siro today.

The tactical set-up of Domenech’s men called on the constant involvement of wingers Malouda and Ribery to try and open up the Azzurri defense, both through runs down the wing and dribbles towards the center. In the latter case, the role of the Azzurri central mid line (De Rossi, Pirlo and Gattuso) was key in providing a filter through which most of France’s chances would have to seep through, before being neutralized by the attentive defense lead by Cannavaro and Barzagli (in excellent form tonight, by the way).

The first chance of the match would be to the credit of the Azzurri, following a bending Pirlo corner kick to the far post. Running from his defensive position, captain Cannavaro managed to slip behind his marker and intercept the ball, but a slip on the moment of finishing caused the chance to go begging, and enabled French keeper Mickaël Landreau (in for injured Coupet) to parry the ball into corner.

A Makelele-Gattuso duel, one of the many that took place during this matchMinutes later, it was France’s turn to send shivers down the Azzurri’s spine, as a good pass by Franck Ribery was blasted tremendously wide by Nicolas Anelka from a good position. Little would then take place for the next 20 minutes, because the French team was extremely skilled and disciplined in removing all space for the Italians, preventing them from reaching their seeked one-touch combinations that were so lethal in the last World cup. On the other side, Cannavaro (finally back to his finest form) and Gattuso (a dynamo, a pittbull, a lion, a… scroll down to the end of the report for the quote of the day) were playing equally well and preventing any good ball from reaching France strikers Henry and Anelka.

At the 30′ mark, Italy decided to shift into higher gear, with two great back-to-back chances. The first, following a great Zambrotta-Del Piero-Camoranesi exchange, put the Juve captain in good position to finish, but the incessant pressure of the French defense forced Del Piero to produce a weak shot on Landreau, which the French keeper easily neutralized. Then, a great spot pass by Pirlo to Inzaghi found the Milan striker in good position for the cross. Pippo’s effort ended up being more of a shot really, one which surprised Landreau, and ended its course on the crossbar!!

Camoranesi tried to evade the close marking of DiarraThe half ended with two great scares for the Azzurri, first as Ribery obtained the ball on the edge of the box, accelerated toward the center, and seemed to be in perfect position for the left-foot finish on the 2nd post (optical illusion from the TV camera however, as replays showed that Ribery’s shot from a good position was miles wide), then following a powerful blast by Malouda from 25 yards, neutralized by Buffon in two saves.

At the restart, no changes in the line-ups of either team, so we restarted right where we had left off. 5 minutes in the play, a great acceleration by Camoranesi on the center-right, and a powerful ensuing shot that stung the fingers of Landreau to deflect into corner. Minutes later, Anelka managed to slip behind Cannavaro and Barzagli, and almost surprise Buffon from close-range, but the tight-angle shot was blocked by Italy’s nº1, always attentive to come off his line.

Pippo Inzaghi was left frustrated today, due to some very close French marking

That would be the last real chance of the game, as neither Donadoni’s substitutions (Perrotta, Lucarelli, and Di Natale in for Camoranesi, Inzaghi, and Del Piero), nor Thierry Henry’s poor form tonight managed to revitalize a game in which both teams, tired from their efforts, had settled for the draw. The Azzurri will definitely have to be of a different colour Wednesday, if they intend to beat the Ukraine (a game in which Gattuso and Toni will unfortunately not take part, respectively suspended and sent home due to injury).

To finish off, the quote of the day (to the credit of the eternal GolTV commentator Ray Hudson): “Gennaro Gattuso is playing like a tyrannosaurus rex with hemorroids”. Priceless.

 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
 Fédération Française de Football
ITALY (4-1-4-1): Buffon – Oddo, F.Cannavaro, Barzagli, Zambrotta – De Rossi – Camoranesi (58’ Perrotta), Gattuso, Pirlo, Del Piero (83’ Di Natale) – Inzaghi (65’ Lucarelli). (bench: Amelia, Panucci, Grosso, Ambrosini). Coach: Donadoni
FRANCE (4-4-2): Landreau – L.Diarra, Thuram, Escudé, Abidal – Ribery (87’ Toulalan), Vieira, Makelele, Malouda – Henry, Anelka. (bench: Frey, Evra, Govou, Clerc, Mexès, Trezeguet). Coach: Mankowski (Domenech suspended)


General impressions

Not much to add except for the obvious fact (and I’m repeating myself) that this was a match in which both teams were afraid to concede goals, more than they were motivated to score any. “Tension” and “fear” are accurate descriptors this group B clash, and following Scotland’s 3-1 victory over Lithuania, the situation has become a must-win for the Azzurri in their next 3 games. Indeed, the ranking now sees France at 1st spot with 19 pts, Scotland 2nd with 18, and Italy 3rd with 17. The Ukraine is trailing behind with 14 pts, but they have played one less game in the group, meaning they could still potentially aspire to create some upsets.

Cannavaro keeps Anelka in check. The Italy captain was one of the best players on the field todayOn the positive notes of the evening, Cannavaro and Barzagli were top notch in central defense today. As is often the case for Italy games, great players rise to great occasions, and this was no exception. I was especially impressed by Barzagli’s performance (Nesta who? Materazzi who?), who paired up perfectly with Cannavaro to provide an iron-tight defence.

On the negative notes, Donadoni might have to revise his modified 4-1-4-1 formation, because one lone striker at the front hasn’t provided the Azzurri with many scoring chances so far (a consideration based also on previous matches, not just tonight). Considering Toni’s out of the Ukraine game, I’m hoping for a traditional 4-4-2 formation with Camoranesi and Perrotta on the wings, and Inzaghi paired up with another striker in offence (be it Lucarelli, Del Piero, or even Quagliarella). Knowing Donadoni though, I doubt he’ll make any changes, but I think that would be a mistake.

Posted in Azzurri, Euro 2008 |

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  • 10 Responses to “Italy-France: in a 0-0 draw, the real victors are tension, fear, and a lot of boredom”

    1. Andrea says:

      A bad result for the Italians, this was a game they needed to win. Domenech may be an idiot who can’t keep his mouth shut, but the team he set up tonight was top notch in breaking down any Azzurri initiative.

    2. Jake says:

      Still doubting the Donadoni sack Marco? It’s only imminent, the Ukraine game is do-or-die, both for Italy and for their coach.

    3. Thomas says:

      I was disappointed by Del Piero, he clearly wasn’t useful and was only wasting good chances, couldn’t create any of his own :S. Camoranesi wasn’t a good choice either but at least he was doing better than DP.

      As for the rest of team, top marks for Defence and Central Mids: De Rossi, Gattuso, Pirlo all very solid, Buffon keeps proving he’s the best keeper in the world, Cannavaro is without a doubt back to his world cup form, and Barzagli really impressed me for such solid defending in a very important game. Weak points IMO were Camo, DP and Inzaghi.

    4. Jake: Despite what you may think, I very much doubt a sack is imminent for DD. If and only if Italy loses in the Ukraine, then we might hear something about alternative coaching at the end of qualifiers, and even then, FIGC would wait till the qualifiers are over.

      Thomas: To be honest, even though Del Piero didn’t play very well, he didn’t deserve to be booed off the pitch. In a game like this with such tight marking and opponents in better physical condition, it was hard for DP to find space or create any. If he attempted the dribble, the defenders would always stop him, so yeah, I guess he should have passed more, but can’t really blame him for underperforming today IMHO. And Camoranesi did what he could, consider he just came back from injury. He hasn’t got a full 90 minutes in his legs yet.

    5. Serja says:

      I didn’t see the match, but from the reports I’ve been reading I gotta agree with Andrea. The France midfield was almos impenetrable today apparently.

      And I’m glad that Henry played like sh**, the stinkin’ traitor he is!!! :evil:

    6. Renodhino says:

      Concerning the game I don’ fully agree with its boredom. It was an amazing display of defensive skills and tactical runs from both side. Less than 20 passes failed to reach a teammate….It was unbelievable.
      For France, we got the job done Depsite Henry playing Italy like you play Derby or Sunderland….We could have scored if Makélélé could shoot a soccer ball (paradoxically, He is one of the five best players in the world) and on Anelka’s drive…But Buffon…..Domenech is an amazing coach…Italians could not have played better yesterday…only Toni could have made a difference…On our side one one man (semi-god) could have done something.

      PS. Bravo pour le site, d’une qualité exceptionnelle (fait par un italien en plus)….


    7. Philippe says:

      I hope Donadoni won’t be sacked. I’m French though, so I guess that makes sense :razz:

      I don’t really want to see Italy field good young players (Montolivo, Rosina, Aquilani, Pazzini, etc…) to replace aging Italians who once played good or great, but are no longer up to par, + Del Piero, who’s always been crap anyway! :grin:

    8. Renaud: Thanks :wink:

      Philippe: Montolivo and Pazzini? That figures, they’re Fiorentina players! :twisted: Have Aquilani and Rosina signed a pre-contract with the Viola, do you know something I don’t know about? : P

    9. Philippe says:

      No they have not, but I am being objective, that’s all :razz: I did forget to mention Pasqual and Gamberini, though, I’ll give you that :grin:

    10. [...] Italy-France clash was eagerly awaited by millions of football fans across the world, but in the end proved to [...]