France, Germany, Italy, and Po____

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

France, Germany, Italy, and Po____

It's déjà vu for me. My first World Cup was 1982, when I spent part of the summer living with a French family and fell in love with the brilliant, beautiful French team led by Michel Platini. That year, the final four was France, Germany, Italy, and Poland. This year, it's France, Germany, Italy, and Portugal. Poland didn't put up much of a fight (I read one commentator who said that once they had knocked out the Soviet Union in the second phase to reach the semifinals--recall that this was around the time Gen. Jaruzelski was installed to try to put down Solidarity--the Poles didn't seem to have much left to play for). Portugal is also the dark horse this time around, though I think they've got a better shot at reaching the final now than the Poles did then. (The other difference was that in 1982, it was specifically West Germany that reached the last four; but it was in fact the same state, namely the Federal Republic of Germany, which has now absorbed the former German Democratic Republic, so don't get all technical on me.)

The big difference is that France isn't playing Germany in the semis this time. Last time, it was an epic battle, featuring one of the most brutal fouls I have ever seen--a clear red card, only the referee somehow managed not to see it (the fact that Patrick Battiston was carried off the field unconscious and missing several teeth should have tipped him off). After the French players stopped chasing Germans around the field seeking revenge and got back to playing soccer, they scored twice in extra time. This, in soccer terms, is an insurmountable lead. But the Germans surmounted it, sending the match to penalties. I believe this might have been the first-ever World Cup match to be decided in this fashion; previously, drawn matches had been replayed, but TV schedules made this an unaffordable luxury. In 1982, even the shoot-out went to extra time, as the teams were tied through five rounds. Finally, Germany won on the sixth kick. I was devastated, as was most of France.

Those were the days. I hope we get something half as good this time around.

Update: More déjà vu. In the quarterfinal, Argentina outplayed Germany in a scoreless first half. Then they scored in the first few minutes of the second half, went into a defensive shell, and ceded the initiative to the Germans, who scored with about ten minutes to go. Germany won on penalties, knocking out a much more attractive (to a neutral observer) opponent.

Tonight, at halftime, Italy has started down the Argentine path: they outplayed Germany in a scoreless first half. If they should score early in the second half--well, no one knows defensive shells like the catenaccio Italians. Well I remember the 1990 semifinal, when Italy went up 1-0 against Argentina, and Argentina was down to 10 men. Rather than going for the kill, Italy protected the lead. Sure enough, late in regular time, Argentina scored off a free kick, held on with 10 men through the half-hour of extra time, and took out a superior team by penalties.

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