Tough task for France, Italy
Few could have predicted Holland’s stunning 3-0 victory over World Champions Italy. Marco Van Basten’s Orange team played an all out pressing game, using their talented and youthful players in a style reminiscent of Johan Cruyff’s Holland of 1974.
The disorganised Italians were overwhelmed by the speed and exuberance of the young Dutch team.
France played a sleepy 0-0 game with a defensive Romanian team and go into this game needing at least a tie to keep their hopes alive. A tie would be good for Holland as well, but a win would take them through to the second round.
Seeing them both on the pitch, one would assume that Holland are heavily favored, but France are usually inspired by the strength of the opposition.
France coach Raymond Domenech has admitted being impressed by the Dutch game.
“I have four doubts,” he told us without specifying who the players were.
Undoubtedly, he will have to choose whether to insert Thierry Henry up front with Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira in the middle, and the left and right backs, Willy Sagnol and Eric Abidal.
Anelka has shown the same lethargy that has followed him whenever he has put on the Blues jersey. Look for Henry, the all time top-scorer for France, to replace either him or Malouda. Karim Benzema did not explode against Romania but he would get more space against the attack-minded Dutch.
Knowing Domenech, who believes in astrology, I see him going with a 4-4-2 formation, with the tried and tested captain Lilian Thuram, supported by Willi-am Gallas, Sagnol and Abidal in defence. Vieira should be called to lead the middle with Makelele and Ribery on the right and Benzema on the left. I see Henry and Anelka upfront. Ben Afra and Bafetimbi Gomis are also two very good young players, who could see activity in the game.
Holland surprised Italy with their speed and finishing. Van Basten has supplanted a huge loss like that of Arjen Robben with the energy and youth of Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt on the right and Real Madrid’s Wesley Sneijder in the middle.
Rafael Van der Vaart has been dropped back in front of the Orange defence where he can launch the forwards with perfect passes. Look for Giovanni van Bronckhorst to repeat his enthusiastic play on the left side, which was crucial to the last two goals against Italy. Orlando Engelaar and De Yong carry the water for the rest of the side and are an indefatigable midfield team, replacing Clarence Seedorf.
In defence Aston Villa’s Wilfred Bouma and Hamburg’s Joris Mathijsen did a solid job against Italy and will have to contain Anelka and Henry. Robin van Persie adds youthful talent and unpredictability to the offence. The two elderly statesmen of Holland, goalie Edwin van der Sar, 28, and RuudVan Nistelrooy, 32, have aged like fine bottles of Petrus wine and are the flagbearers of this dynamic Dutch team. Van der Sar produced a world-class save off Andrea Pirlo and Nistelrooy cleverly realized that Panucci’s collapse off field kept him from being offside. Leave it to a world-class striker to think quicker than anybody else.
Onus on Italy to win
The World Champions Italy have to win against a defensive and organised Romania in order to pip France to the last spot. Picking Donadoni over Claudio Gentile as head coach was a political decision that Italy may live to regret. In the past he had only coached Livorno, and replaced Marcello Lippi after the World Cup due to his friendship with Vice Commissioner Albertini. His head is on the chopping block should Italy lose to Romania. I see him bringing back Daniele de Rossi, the talented Roma midfielder, and starting Fabio Grosso on the left with Gianluca Zambrotta on the right in defence, like in the World Cup.
Fabio Cannavaro’s injury has been more crucial than imagined and Donadoni has said he will put Andrea Barzagli of Palermo and Giorgio Chiellini of Juventus in the middle. In the midfield, I see Pirlo at his usual place flanked by De Rossi and Mauro Camoranesi on the right. Gennaro Gattuso has run out of steam and seemed more poodle than Pit Bull against Holland.
Up front, Luca Toni’s place seems assured and he could be flanked by Alessandro del Piero, the top scorer in Italy this year. Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale could be brought in if Italy fail to score in the first half.
Romania are not easy to beat. They showed that against France and in the qualifications where they finished ahead of Holland. They are a sleepy, deceptive team. They play a healthy catenaccio that is hard to break. With the inexperienced Italian defensive line they might have a chance to score a goal.
Italy play well when they are scared of losing and facing the ultracritical Italian press and fans. I think they will win as Romania are not the speediest or talented of teams. The experience of Gianluigi Buffon, Del Piero, Toni and Pirlo should be enough to make the difference.
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