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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Euro 2008 Qualifier: Italy 0 x France 0

Italy had not defeated France in a competitive game since 1978. Officially, last summer's World Cup final was deemed a tie after extra time. Tonight would lengthen the long drought.

There was much discussion on the French side prior to this game. Coach Raymond Domenech was banned to the terraces for his comments that a game in 1999 was fixed by the Italians against a France U21 team. One of the French players, Lassana Diarra, called all Italians "cheats and provokers." So the scene was set for a classic encounter between two historic rivals. (The first game for the Azzurri was a win over France in 1910). Unfortunately, we were not presented with an entertaining or flowing game from two of the premier sides in European football.

"Grazie Maestro" was on the scoreboard at the San Siro, and "Nessun Dorma" was heard to great applause before the game as a tribute to Maestro Luciano Pavarotti.

The French anthem, which was whistled derisively by many in the capacity crowd, was quite an unfortunate display of bad manners. Especially after the moving tribute to Maestro Pavarotti. All of the RAI announcers mentioned this, as did Fabio Cannavaro after the game. (I read that Cannavaro addressed the crowd before the game with this very theme in mind).

The game began as anticipated. France lined up in a 4-3-3, and Italy was in a cautious 4-1-4-1. Inzaghi was the lone striker, and Del Piero was flanked behind him on the left in a support role. Due to the crowded midfield, there was tight passing and marking. Italy looked crisper in the early stages, but seemed mired in their own half of the field for the first part of the game. Nicolas Anelka of France had a good chance after about 7 minutes but missed wide. Gianluca Zambrotta was very active on the left wing, and began to push up frequently. From a corner by Andrea Pirlo, Fabio Cannavaro slipped as he slided in to make contact with the ball, but it was too soft and scooped up by the French keeper, Landreau.

France did not attack again until late in the first half. The Azzurri had two excellent opportunities in the span of two minutes at the 30 minute mark. Mauro Camoranesi fed Alex Del Piero, but his left-footed shot was saved. A minute later, Pippo Inzaghi beat his defender, and a left-footed chip that grazed the top of the crossbar. Those events awakened the French. Franck Ribery, with deft cuts, went to the left, found space, but his shot was wide left over Gigi Buffon. Then Florent Malouda took a hard left-footed shot that was saved by Buffon. The half ended, 0 x 0, with possession about 55% to 45% to Italy. Unfortunately for the Azzurri, Rino Gattuso picked up a yellow card which will exclude him from next week's game in Kiev against Ukraine.

Italy began the second half looking for a goal. They had two chances very quickly with Andrea Barzagli, on a header, and then Camoranesi, who had a shot saved by Landreau. After that, there was precious little from the home team, and their of lack match fitness in the last 15 to 20 minutes seemed to be a significant factor. France had one clear counter-attacking opportunity by Anelka that was thwarted by Cannavaro, who had an excellent game in defense. This game was concisely summarized by Fabio Capello, who was doing commentary for RAI. "France came looking for a tie, and we allowed it."

With Scotland's victory earlier, along with this result, France leads the group with 19 points. Followed by Scotland with 18, and the Azzurri are in third place at 17. Scotland visits Paris next Wednesday, and Italy will face a stern test in Ukraine, who tied today in Georgia, 1 x 1.

Fabio Cannavaro was interviewed after the game. "We were too timid in the beginning. It's a shame, with more pressure, we might have won... We'll go to Ukraine looking to win."

Italy

Buffon, Oddo, Cannavaro (captain), Barzagli, Zambrotta, De Rossi, Camoranesi , Gattuso, Pirlo, Del Piero, and Inzaghi. Coach: Mr. Donadoni.

France

Landreau, Thuram, Makelele, Escude, Abidal, Ribery (Toulalan 86), Vieira (captain), Diarra, Malouda; Henry, and Anelka. Coach: Pierre Mankowski.

Yellow Cards

Gattuso for Italy. Makelele and Henry for France.

Substitutions

Perrotta for Camoranesi: 58th minute for Italy.
Di Natale for Del Piero: 82nd minute for Italy.
Lucarelli for Inzaghi: 64th minute for Italy.

Toulalan for Ribery: 86th minute for France.

Referee

Mr. Lubok Michel from Slovakia.

Attendance: 85,000. Field conditions were dry, and the weather was warm.

Notes


Lilian Thuram made his 121st appearance for France.
Fabio Cannavaro made his 110th appearance for Italy.
Italy had 8 corners to 1 for France; however, France had 9 shots on goal to 6 for the Azzurri.
Luca Toni was in the terraces, and may be sent home for the match with Ukraine due to injury.

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