Archive for December 2nd, 2007

Serie A Matchday 14 – No Goals Between AC Milan and Juve, but Chances Aplenty

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Serie A

Note: Sorry for the delay on the Milan-Juve match report, but I had pressing commitments Saturday afternoon.

Milan-Juve ends 0-0. All in all it’s a result that makes sense, given what the level of play the two teams displayed during the 90 minutes. At the end of the day, a point is probably a better result for Juve than AC Milan, for two reasons: firstly, for the Bianconeri this is an away draw at San Siro (never an easy feat whatever the form of the host team may be) which temporarily puts them 2 points behind leaders Inter (albeit with 2 extra games played). Secondly, this result will only feed the doubts of the Rossoneri, in believing they are under a curse of not being able to win at home this season. A look at the history books marks this as a negative record for AC Milan: counting the winless matches of last season, this brings the streak to 9 consecutive games without a win for Carlo Ancelotti’s boys (earlier record being 8 matches, dating from the prehistoric times of 1934-35).

gattuso_czanetti.jpg

Serie A Matchday 15 - Milan 0-0 Juventus

Tactically, this game had in store some early surprises compared to what the pre-match studies had anticipated. Carlo Ancelotti decided to field his usual “Xmas tree” formation, but gave Kaká the task of getting up almost in line with Alberto Gilardino (with the playmaking tasks as nº10 being left to Clarence Seedorf). In addition, Serginho was given a starting role over Paolo Maldini, a sign perhaps that the Milan coach wanted his wing offensives to be more pungent. On the other end, with Camoranesi out injured, Claudio Ranieri surprised everyone not only by not starting Alessandro Del Piero from minute 1, but by preferring Hasan Salihamidzic as right midfielder over Marco Marchionni or Raffaele Palladino. A choice justified by the Bosnian’s better defensive abilities over his two counterparts.

The match started with an incredibly active Juventus side, who pushed up on the Rossoneri defense right from the get-go. Both Iaquinta and Trezeguet were supported by the Bianconeri mid-line, and forced the AC Milan players to commit some mistakes which could have been very costly, the most notable of which the ball lost by Andrea Pirlo in minute 12, which set up Cristiano Zanetti for a nice aerial ball to Trezeguet on the right, but the Frenchman’s strike hit the base of the post.

After the initial Juve attacking storm the match settled down a bit, which allowed the AC Milan players to take a breather and try to organize some plays of their own. However, partly because of an attentive Juve defense, partly due to the non-ideal conditions of the Giuseppe Meazza stadium, the best the Rossoneri could garner in the 1st half were an unconvincing attempt by Seedorf (wide) and a mid-range effort by Pirlo (well saved by Gigi Buffon). 0-0 at the break.

In the 2nd half, the match set off on the same pace as it all begun in the 1st, except this time it was the Rossoneri leading the way. Their ball possession however turned into dangerous counter-attack for Juve as soon as a Milan player lost the ball. Such as is in the 48th when Salihamidzic skipped past the challenge of Serginho, moved back to the center with loads of space, and armed a left-footed instep shot that only a miracle save by Dida kept out of the net.

Kaka's bicycle kickOnto the other end, Milan immediately replied: cross by Massimo Oddo from the right wing onto a mix of players, rebound lands to Kaká. The Brazilian flicks it up with one touch, then attempts an instantaneous bicycle kick from close-range. Buffon is there, but on the rebound Gilardino taps into the net. Tough luck for Milan, Gila was offside.

With the game now picking up more and more pace, chances are flowing for either side. Gilardino screams for penalty for a supposed shirt tug by Nicola Legrottaglie inside the box, while on the other end a deep run down the left by Cristian Molinaro almost turned into an assist for Trezeguet, had the Frenchmen made a tackle towards the second post on his team-mate’s low cross.

Ancelotti then decided to play the Inzaghi card, while Ranieri took his chances with Del Piero. Pippo immediately took his mark on the game by eluding the offside trap (and Chiellini) and slamming Kaladze’s inviting cross right onto Buffon’s arms, while Pinturicchio tried a few dribbles & tricks from his arsenal, and even had a good left-footed shot on net if only he hadn’t been offside. Neither of the two strikers however, could help his team deliver what would have been the game winner, and the full 90 minutes came to an end with a 0-0 scoreline.

dida_iaquinta.jpg

.

A.C. Milan
MILAN-JUVENTUS
0-0
[Match Highlights]
 Juventus F.C.
GOALSCORERS: /
MILAN (4-3-2-1): Dida – Oddo (79’ Bonera), Nesta, Kaladze, Serginho (64’ Maldini) – Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini – Seedorf, Kaká – Gilardino (64’ Inzaghi). (bench: Kalac, Cafu, Brocchi, Gourcuff). Coach: Ancelotti.
JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon – Zebina, Legrottaglie, Chiellini, Molinaro – Salihamidzic (71’ Marchionni), Nocerino, C.Zanetti, Nedved (82’ Palladino) – Trezeguet, Iaquinta (71’ Del Piero). (bench: Belardi, Birindelli, Criscito, Tiago). Coach: Ranieri.

.

Serie A Matchday 14 – Classy Match between Inter and Fiorentina, and Not Only Because of Technical Displays

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Serie A

Really exciting stuff at the Stadio Artemio Franchi of Florence today. The match itself was quite enjoyable to watch, with plenty of opportunities for either side (even though in the end, Inter-”bulldozing tank”-nazionale got the upper hand again, through goals of Jiménez and Cruz). The real class act however was at the end of match, when the entire Fiorentina team lined up close to the stadium tunnel and awaited their Inter opponents to shake hands, one by one (just like in rugby matches). With the heart-warming tribute of the Viola fans to their coach Cesare Prandelli (who recently lost his wife Manuela due to a long-time illness), we’d wish to see things like that more often on a soccer pitch, things which at the end of the day, matter more perhaps than the 3 points in the league rankings.

Fiorentina and Inter players fraternizing at the end of the match

Serie A Matchday 14 - Fiorentina 0-2 Inter

As for the match itself, this was another exam which Inter passed with flying colors. Surfing the wave of their Champions League victories and the good results against Roma and against Juve (win and away draw respectively), Roberto Mancini’s boys got rid of the Viola obstacle, by earning a 2-0 away victory at the Stadio Franchi of Florence. prandelli_roses.jpgProviding the Inter glory: Jiménez and Cruz, two players which coincidentally had gotten on the scoresheet earlier this week against Fenerbahce, and who tonight contributed to add another match to Inter’s loss-less Serie A streak.

Before the match begun, the entire Franchi stadium paid tribute to Cesare Prandelli and his wife Manuela, with a long round of applause and hundreds of white roses thrown off from the Franchi stands, to precede the traditional minute of silence. Then, the Fiorentina coach concentrated his mind on soccer (for a full 90 minutes at least) in which he had to deal with pretty much an improvised defensive set-up (due to a last-minute injury of Dario Dainelli). This forced the repositioning of Alessandro Potenza to the right wing and Tomas Ujfalusi in the center.

Prandelli’s football worries didn’t limit to his defense however, because the easiness by which the Inter players breezed through the first 45 minutes of play was almost alarming. A true football lesson for Fiorentina it might be said, which can be effectively summarized by two words: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The magnificent Swede needed two touches on the ball: the first to set up Luis Jimenez on the right side of the box, the second to set up Julio Cruz on the left side. One-touch passes, transformed into assists because the two South Americans didn’t fail the winning finish: 45 minutes and it was 2-0 Inter.

Fiorentina in all this? They kept alive through the efforts of Giampaolo Pazzini, who was desperately trying to find some space for the finish, but the Inter defense (Walter Samuel and Julio Cesar above all) were very much on their guard. On the other end Inter were having fun: Ibrahimovic came close to his 13th Inter goal of the season, while Maicon was being absolutely devastating with his forward dribbles and runs into space. Not only that, but Roberto Mancini’s team were only marginally affected when they lost one of their key players (Olivier Dacourt) to injury after 20 minutes of play: the Inter coach simply replaced the Frenchman with Maxwell, and pushed Cristian Chivu at the heart of the Nerazzurri midfield (a move which already proved successful in the Champions League this week).

Zlatan Ibrahimovic gives props to Sebastien Frey, the French keeper just made a double save on his shotsIn the 2nd half, Fiorentina finally got a more territorial possession of the ball inside the Inter half, but Christian Vieri’s (on for Pazzini) and Adrian Mutu’s efforts were still hitting solid rock in an Inter defense composed of sturdy Samuel and Cordoba. Meanwhile, Zlatan was starting a one-on-one war with Viola keeper Sebastien Frey, who was absolutely determined in keeping a tight lock onto his goal (aside from the 2 tallies of the first half, that is). Biggest testament to this fact, was the 3-chances-in-succession obtained by the Swede in minute 55, which found on every single occasion the French keeper ready for the parry (the 3rd shot was over the bar). Brilliant skills by the Frey (so good in fact, that he earned the fist high-five by Zlatan, picture that).

With 60 minutes left, Prandelli took out a tired Fabio Liverani for Mario Santana (back from injury), and the Argentine gave the Viola midfield a little bit more spark. However, even Vieri’s best efforts to get on the end of Mutu’s crosses weren’t enough. The match ended on a golden chance for Fiorentina in the 90th, when Franco Semioli exploited a pin-point cross by Mutu and slammed a header from point-blank range into what seemed an almost-guaranteed goal. Julio Cesar however somehow managed to keep it out, summoning his best puppet impression and extending his leg for a jump-parry (you have to see it to understand what I’m talking about). Too late and not enough for Fiorentina, 2-0 Inter the final score.

.

 ACF Fiorentina
FIORENTINA-INTER
0-2
[Match Highlights]
F.C. Internazionale Milano
GOALSCORERS: 10’ Jimenez (I), 45’ Cruz (I)
FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Frey – Potenza, Ujfalusi, Gamberini, Pasqua – Kuzmanovic (46’ Jorgensen), Liverani (59’ Santana), Donadel – Semioli, Pazzini (46’ Vieri), Mutu. (bench: Lupatelli, Balzaretti, Osvaldo, Gobbi). Coach: Prandelli
INTER (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Cordoba, Samuel, Chivu – J.Zanetti, Dacourt (21’ Maxwell), Cambiasso – Jimenez (82’ Materazzi) – Ibrahimovic, Cruz (73’ Suazo). (bench: Orlandoni, Burdisso, Pelè, Crespo). Coach: Mancini

.

Euro 2008 Group Stage Draw – Italy get “Group of Death” with France, Holland, and Romania

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

 Bloody hell… France again? Are you serious? One thing’s for sure, it is going to be an exciting tournament next summer.

I’ll update this post later with the reactions from Donadoni & Co.
Scroll down for post-draw reactions by Italian coach Roberto Donadoni and Netherlands coach Marco Van Basten.
.

.
Group A
.
  .
Group B
.
Switzerland   Austria
Czech Republic   Croatia
Portugal   Germany
Turkey   Poland

.

.
Group C
.
  .
Group D
.
Netherlands   Greece
Italy   Sweden
Romania   Spain
France   Russia

.

Update 9:07am ET:
While we wait for the Azzurri commentaries, here’s something you might find interesting, the MATCH SCHEDULE for Group C.

The full schedule can be found on the UEFA.com site here (PDF file).
.

Match Schedule:

June 6
18:00: Romania-France
20:45: Netherlands-Italy

June 13
18:00: Italy-Romania
20:45: Netherlands-France

June 17
20:45: France-Italy
20:45: Netherlands-Romania

.

In other words, tough tournament opener against Holland, but we’re saving the best for last.

In an ideal scenario, the Azzurri would get 6 points from the first 2 matches and then face France with a guaranteed ticket to the Quarter-Finals. Ideal scenario.
.

Update 10:30am ET:
POST-DRAW REACTIONS by Roberto Donadoni

Donadoni expected this… he had imagined it. In the Italian coach’s mind (ours as well, mind you), the possibility of the “Group of Death” slowly materialized as the teams were being drawn in Lucerne. The Don’s Azzurri and the Oranje of Marco Van Basten will face off in Euro 2008, but it will be a cordial match between the two managers, two friends that go way back to the AC Milan golden years. Van Basten and Donadoni were all smiles during the press conference following the draw, and the Dutch coach even cracked a few jokes in Italian, forgetting for a moment that the questions had been asked in English or Dutch.

donadoni_domenech.jpg

Unlike Raymond Domenech, Mr. “Nice guy”. The French coach had time to make a short comment on the difficulty of the group (four words, FOUR), before a journalist asked him his expectations for an Italy-France rematch without Zidane, but with Materazzi on the field. At which point Domenech tagged the question as “stupid”, got up and left, grumbling something along the lines “these guys really piss me off”. He was followed out the room by the French PR representative, quite visibly upset at the French coach’s attitude. A class act, that guy Domenech…

So, was Domenech scared? The French media say “pretentious”, but one that was undoubtedly scared after the draw was Romanian coach Victor Piturca, who must have thought something along the lines “Dear God oh Lord, where did my team end up”. No matter, Roberto Donadoni cut the commentaries on Domenech’s behaviour short: “It isn’t my place to judge the behaviour of Domenech, I don’t know the way he deals with his emotions. I’ll just say that it will entirely depend be up to us to avoid Italy-France prematch periods full of controversy and bad blood. We will have to walk the walk, not only talk the talk“.

The Don appared to be very relaxed, and not at all worried. At least that’s the impression he gave. “I am leaving Lucerne with a serene mind” said the coach. “There are many bigger problems to get worried about in life. It will be up to us to make certain matches easier to play. I’ll be honest though, we hoped to be slightly more fortunate, but we’ll take the group we’ve been give. I had the feeling we were going to get a tough group, and this will our opportunity to face another hard challenge with a serene mind“.

Regarding facing off with France once again, Donadoni commented: “It doesn’t provoke any particular emotions in me to be honest, past matches with France now belong to the past and don’t count“. Wow… he’s really down-to-Earth the Don, huh?

Update 11:30am ET:
POST-DRAW REACTIONS by Marco Van Basten

“A really hard group: Netherlands, Italy, France and Romania” was the first question asked to the Dutch national team coach. ”Yeah, what more do you want?” answered Van Basten smiling. “It will be fun. (…) Playing the first match against Italy will be special, it’s always something special to be playing against the Azzurri. In footballing terms, I myself have “grown up” in the Serie A. I know Italy well, they have always had great players, a great football history with many World Cup and European titles, so it will be a difficult challenge. Donadoni? It’s always hard to beat him.”

Marco Van Basten (left) with UEFA president Michel Platini, during the Euro 2008 draw

When asked if he would like one day to manage an Italian team, Van Basten said: “I think we need to take it one step at a time. We have a tournament to play next Summer, so my priorities are preparing the match *against* Italy, then we can think about other things“.

The Dutch manager also talked about the Italy-Netherlands friendly match in program for the month of February: “I don’t know what to say about that one at this time. On the one hand it would be strange to have our two teams face off so close to the tournament, but on the other hand playing against Italy is always great for the show. We’ll see what we decide later on.”

Finally, when a journalist mentioned the video replays shown during the draw ceremony, of Van Basten’s famous goal against Russia in 1984, the Dutch coach blurted out: “Pretty nice huh?:) . Then he added: “It is true there haven’t been many goals scored like that since then, but I hope my team can get to work on it and score a few. I will set up some special training sessions for that” Van Basten joked.