Allez les bleus

I expected it to be Germany versus France, and since I'm an ardent ABI fan (anyone but Italy), I'm a bit annoyed at one half of the semi-final results. I do have to admit some awe at the Azzuri's ability to put out of their minds all the madness that has recently surrounded the game in their country. It's really hard not to be melted by Grosso's explosion of joy and relief after he scored his magnificent goal. It's also hard not to admire Cannavaro, who is several times over the most complete defender in this tournament (as Thuram was in 1998--no one was so spectacularly distinguished in 2002). I also have no sympathy for teams who bunker down to sit on a draw or one goal lead, so I concede the Germans deserved their fate for playing for penalty kicks. They did redeem themselves against Portugal with an effervescent offensive display.

France did their part, and after their slow start, they've been marvelous to watch. I do wish Henry showed more of his usual club side spark, and a dominant performance today would be not a moment too soon. Everyone else has already thrown every superlative in every dictionary at Zidane, and i have none to offer except to hope he takes the crown he deserves into retirement.

Italy are heavy favorites in almost every camp, but I see no such lopsided odds. For a start, let's not forget that no one gave France a chance against Brazil, either. I like the wise old men of France under the immense pressure of the biggest sporting final in the world. The country of Italy has three titles to France's one, but they are tied in the post-war era, and more importantly, this very France squad has experience of going all the way, while no one remains from Italy's victorious 1982 team. Experience counts as much as fitness in such a game. Also, Italy has faced plenty of off-field adversity, but France has had more to deal with on the pitch, and I wonder how Italy will respond if they do stumble and let in a goal. Buffon has been solid, but we've all seen his wilder moments at club level. Then again every other moment for Barthez is a wild one, and I still think Les Bleus could end up regretting picking him over the rock solid (though less experienced) Coupet.

We'll see, I guess. Here's hoping for bis mille neuf cent quatre-vingt dix-huit, including the drama, and the result.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia