Right. Down to the last four, then. An all-European semi-final line-up has certainly upset most of the pundits’ pre-tournament predictions (even down to little old me, tippity-tapping away my keyboard with only a few people paying any attention), but it has proved a couple of things: firstly, the all-conquering power of the South America was over-rated. A quick dissection Brazil and Argentina’s performances shows that, rather than simultaneously having bad days at the office, they under-performed for longer than they, well, performed. Argentina fooled us all by beating Serbia 6-0, but that was as good as it got for them. They got a little lucky against Mexico, and the luck ran out against Germany. Brazil weren’t properly tested until they played France, and then they were tactically out-fought. But I digress.
Germany-Italy: The Germans have been outstanding so far. No question about it. Meanwhile, though, Italy have trundled along, grinding out results without ever looking spectacular. I am rather of the mind that the Germans will struggle to break down this Italian defence, though. Podolski has got through a ropey spell at the start of the tournament, and Ballack has been the outstanding player of the whole tournament so far. The key for them is patience. They need a big performance – not only for themselves, but from the crowd as well. Expectation levels are rising daily now. The days of hoping to maybe, just maybe, reach the quarter-finals and not disgrace themselves are well behind them. But high hopes carry with them the burden of high pressure. Just ask Sven Goran Eriksson. For the Italians, the important man is Toni, again. Was his brace against Ukraine a flash in the pan? I’m inclined to think not – his performances in matches prior to that game deserved the goals that he finally got last week. I’m just not certain it’ll be enough. It’s Germany for me.
France-Portugal: This strikes me as a considerably easier one to call. It’s going some to be worse than England over 120 minutes, with England having lost their only truly talismanic presence, but somehow they managed it. Even Trinidad managed a few shots on goal against England. That said, they will be welcoming back Deco, but he’ll be up against the tournament’s best-organised defences. If Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka and Adriano could only muster a couple of shots on target against them, how is Deco? France, stumbling and disinterested at the start, have come brilliantly to life. Domenech has solved the question of whether Henry can be accomodated into their tactical system (answer: yes), and Zidane has answered the question of whether he has one big tournament left in him (answer: yes). Portugal can beat France, but they’ll need a performance of considerably more guile than they’ve shown against anybody yet. France, with a bit to spare.
So there we are. More tomorrow, I guess.
*Edited For Spackfingeredness*