Italy 2-0 France: Italians Breathe Sigh of Relief
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Day eleven of GroundReport's exclusive on-the-ground coverage of Euro2008.
Italy trumped the French decisively in their Group C re-match of 2006 World Cup winners and runners-up Tuesday, moving on to play Spain in the quarterfinals on Sunday after an enlivening display of confidence.
Meanwhile Holland, who remain unbeaten in three matches after defeating Romania 2-0 today, play the winner of tomorrow’s Group D fixture between Sweden and Russia on Saturday.
Andrea Pirlo got the match under way for Italy midway through the first half, scoring from the spot after Luca Toni was taken down by Eric Abidal on a break-away opportunity. Slovakian referee Lubos Michel showed Abidal a straight red card for his clumsy challenge, and the Italians never looked back after taking the lead, with Daniele De Rossi sealing the victory for the world champions later in the second half.
The French had started promisingly in a match that began with nerves and jitters for both sides, but Luca Toni had the first real opportunity when he slipped behind the French back four and latched onto a long ball from Giorgio Chiellini after the ball took an awkward bounce for Les Bleus. Toni fired too early and too wide to trouble French keeper Gregory Coupet, but the opportunity opened a series of other similar chances throughout the first half.
In the 8th minute, Franck Ribery appeared to hurt himself while going in for a tackle against Gianluca Zambrotta, and the Bayern Munich striker ultimately had to be carted off the pitch, red in face and grimacing in pain. Raymond Domenech immediately sent in Samir Nasri to take Ribery’s position.
A long, hopeful lob from mid-field in the 24th minute found Toni behind the French back-four again – but this time Toni was taken down in the box by Abidal, and Pirlo makes no mistake about the ensuing penalty a minute later when he fired into the top left corner away from Coupet.
France, now a man down, could not retain possession beyond mid-field, and the Italian middle five became completely dominant in the center of the pitch. Luca Toni had another half a dozen opportunities to put his side up further, slipping behind a stretched French defense to latch onto more dangerous through-balls and lobs from mid-field. France’s captain and leading scorer, Thierry Henry, looked completely ineffective for the French front, and even when he did manage to direct traffic, poor ball-handling from fellow strikers Karim Benzema and Sidney Govou allowed the Italian back-four to clear the ball from danger before Les Bleus could threaten Gianluigi Buffon.
In the 44th minute, Fabio Grosso curled a dangerous free kick from twenty yards out toward the opposite up-right, but Coupet got his fingertips in time to keep it out and keep his team alive in the hunt for an equalizer. Andrea Pirlo went into the referee’s book after derailing Benzema during the subsequent French counter-attack – his second of the tournament – meaning that he will not be eligible to play in Italy’s quarterfinal on Sunday. Gennaro Gattuso joined Pirlo in the referee’s book in the 54th minute, also discounting him from his side’s next fixture.
In the 61st minute, Thierry Henry managed to find the back of the net for the second time in two games – only this time he scored in his own goal, when Daniele De Rossi struck the ball from 25-yards out during a set-piece. The shot took a deflection off the wall - Henry's foot - and past a helpless Coupet, and France were unable to challenge Buffon much afterward, except for one near-opportunity Benzema had in the 74th minute. Les Bleus, looking increasingly fatigued and dispirited as the second half progressed, altogether collapsed before the full-time whistle.
Italy book their spot in the quarterfinals thanks to the Netherlands, who defeated an equally lifeless and unimpressive Romanian side that needed a win to advance to the knockout stage regardless of what happened in the other match. Marco Van Baasten had fielded an all-reserves team following Portugal and Croatia earlier this week, but the Dutch were still able to retain a lion’s share of possession and substantially slow the pace of the match – a gear down from their classic one-touch passing that have made previous opponents run in circles, but play that still raised alarm bells for the Romanian defense throughout the match. Arjen Robben should have put his side up early in the match, collecting a clever flick-on from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar inside the six-yard box ten minutes from half-time, but his shot failed him as he fired wide of the keeper.
Arsenal FC striker Robin Van Persie, whose fitness level was called into question following a late thigh injury before the tournament, also had a near-opportunity to put the Oranje up shortly afterward, skillfully trapping a lob pass in the penalty box and swinging around his opposite number to fire toward goal – only to be tipped away by Lobont for a corner-kick right before the stroke of half-time.
In the 55th minute, Huntelaar broke through the Romanian defense after neatly tapping a low cross from the right into the back of the net, and Robin Van Persie sealed the victory for the Dutch in the 87th minute in another display of individual skill. The Romanians for their part could not establish any rhythm or sense of urgency that prevailed in their previous two matches, when they drew against both France and Italy, and Holland comfortably took the game to the group underdogs for the third straight time in the tournament.
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