Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Italy take a tumble

They called it a grudge-match, in the buildup to Italy’s visit to Stade de France. After a tumultuous World Cup final, which saw perhaps our generation’s best number 10 bow out in disgrace, there was an air of sportsmanship to the match-up of Winners versus Runners-Up. Aside from Alberto Gilardino incurring a booking for a dive, cynicism didn’t rear its ugly head.

But we're talking revenge. This was the sweetest revenge that could have been afforded to Les Bleus, outside of winning the Euros and the next World Cup, and both squad and fans felt that way, given coach Raymond Domenech’s insistence on having Claude Makelele in the starting lineup, and the enthusiasm of the home crowd.

Pace and menace were the methodology of the French. Italy continued their hangover after their victory in Berlin.

Sidney Govou started in place of Louis Saha and he started off the scoring early with a right footed volley of William Gallas’ cross from an offside (unnoticed by the linesman) position. An equalizer from Alberto Gilardino’s head off of an Andrea Pirlo (who else?) free kick was the best the Azzuri could muster.

Thierry Henry put France ahead with a trademark tight-angle goal from the left that took a deflection off of the defender to get past Gianluigi Buffon, and convince himself that he can still score goals. And Govou made Saha sweat with the winner, a powerful header from Willy Sagnol’s excellent ball in that bounced past Buffon, and the Lyon striker nailed Cannavaro in the noggin pretty good in the process.

Sure, this was a feel-good for the French, a minor victory in contrast to the World Cup final. More importantly, it places France in an enviable position in their group, and Italy, remarkably, looking up at a number of lesser teams from the cellar.

Perhaps the reality of the Serie A scandal has sunk in, or perhaps they’re merely rusty from holidays in St. Tropez. Whatever the reason, new coach Roberto Donadoni will face a maelstrom in the Italian Press, after failing to impress with this loss and a 1-1 draw with Lithuania.

France find themselves rebounding as best as they can after the fiasco of the World Cup final. Despite the drama surrounding Domenech and Makalele, this is the moral boost Les Bleus need after the loss of Zidane. Will Makalele continue on through the campaign or stick to his word and end his international career after today? Captain Patrick Vieira seems to think he'll stay, but one thing is clear: they don’t lack the talent.

Govou shows the way as France take their revenge [Guardian Unlimited]

France 3-1 Italy [BBC Sport]

France gain measure of revenge for World Cup [Times Online]

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