Archive for August 10th, 2007

Waiting for Italy-France in September…

Friday, August 10th, 2007

 Italy and France captains, Fabio Cannavaro & Fabien Barthez, before the penalty shootout at Germany 2006

It is now less than a month away, and there is already huge talk about the biggest match of group B‘s Euro 2008 qualifiers! On September 8th, the two finalists of World Cup 2006 will face each other once again, in what is undoubtedly the most anticipated match of the qualifying round, one which may very well determine who gets their ticket for Austria/Switzerland 2008! The first leg (played last year in Stade de France, Paris) ended 3-1 for “Les Bleus” (goals by Govou (x2), Henry, and Gilardino) but following that first defeat, World Champions Italy have been raking in victory after victory and are currently 2 points behind France in the standings. No doubt that the Azzurri will be particularly motivated for the return leg, given that they’ll have the support of the home crowd cheering them on.

Indeed, all the tickets put on sale on July 31 were sold out within a week, meaning that there will be over 65,000 crazed Italian fans at San Siro stadium ready to cheer for the Azzurri! The French Federation was given 5,000 tickets of its own, to provide the limited but nonetheless vital away support, and all of those were sold out as well! It is going to be a very packed house in Milan that time of the month…

France coach, Raymond DomenechMeanwhile, on fields different than the usual soccer pitch, the “match” has already begun. In a long interview released to French newspaper Le Parisien, France coach Raymond Domenech showed once again that he cannot seem to be able to swallow the World Cup loss of 2006. First, he took a stab at the now widely popular (for any Frenchman) Italy defender Marco Materazzi, by commenting (among other things) that “in the final of the world cup he scored a goal, made the best player of the opposing team get sent off, and scored in the penalty shootout. In Berlin, the Man of the Match wasn’t Pirlo, but Materazzi”. Domenech continued his insulting tirade (disguising it as praise through the repeated “congratulations” given to the Italian defender) by explaining that the art of provocation is a classic in a sport such as football, and that Materazzi exploited it to perfection.

Domenech’s words could have ended with the label of “sour, but honest”, had it not been for the usual “word too many”. In his concluding statements, the French coach added that “the biggest problem in matches like these are the referees. With the Italians it’s an habit, it is not me that invented the Calciopoli scandal of last year. In the past there have been matches in which corruption was evident, such as the that U21 France-Italy game, which was a qualifier for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. They bought the referee. I have been swindled in the most incredible way, so after it happens to you once, you remain suspicious. In Italian soccer there’s always money changing hands under the table”.

The French federation didn’t take Domenech’s comments lightly. FFF‘s president Jean-Pierre Escalettes made a phone call to apologize to his Italian counterpart, FIGC president Giancarlo Abete, pointing out that Domenech’s declarations were based on opinions entirely personal, and that there was no doubt in his mind that the game at San Siro in September will be played under the highest level of fair play, the same way the first leg in Paris had been played. Abete appreciated Escalettes’ gesture, and the two presidents parted ways reasserting the mutual appreciation and full cooperation uniting the two federations.

However, it might not be over yet for Domenech, his words having caught the ear of UEFA‘s high administration. Their president Michel Platini declared that UEFA would send a letter to the French federation, asking for the submission of proof of the accusations stated by Domenech, the failure of which will result in “sanctions being taken” against the French coach. It’s good to see that not everyone in France has completely lost their mind…

In the words of Italian legend and former U21 coach Marco Tardelli: that, my friends, “is what you call a sore loser“.