England manager Roy Hodgson might be hurting right now, but in a few days he will be able to smile. He has brought England back to the world's stage as a major player.
What is most remarkable is that it was done in such a short period of time. It is difficult to get any team to commit to a system, believe me, but to get established professionals to do it is quite another. You can see the horrors when players and coaches are not united in a game plan just by looking at the uber talent possessed by Holland and how they failed to score even a point in group play.
Hodgson executed what his talent could handle. He has some youth and experienced players that are getting up in age. to make an American analogy, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton would have adjust his tactics if he is starting Drew Brees as opposed to Tim Tebow. The 'catenaccio-esque' (door-bolt defense of old-school Italian football) style Hodgson instituted shut out the Italians, no small task. Most of Italy's team is made up of Juventus players who finished their Serie A season undefeated.
Italy's manager Cesare Prandelli has to feel satisfied right now for he has re-established Assuri football. Watching them Sunday reminded me of the USA World Cup when Italy played Brazil in the finals. Great possession, imaginative attack, patient understanding that defense wins championships. This defense is not parked in front of the goal, but relates to them all making sure that they have superior numbers behind the ball so that when they steal it, they can resume possession. If you have the ball, then the other team can only score via counterattack.
Counterattack was England's hope with dangerous Wayne Rooney and young attackers like Danny Wellbeck and Andy Carroll. Defending the counterattack was Italy's major weakness.
This game then would be entertaining for sure. The first ten minutes were intense. Both coaches seemed to have the plan to attack early then settle down and be cautious. In the third minute, Daniele De Rossi shot a lazer which hit the post and bounced out of harm's way. Then England came back a minute later with a string of passes and put the ball on target only to have Gianluigi Buffon snatch it out the air! At first we were all in shock for these were two defensive teams on the prowl. Then, after the ten minute dash was over, everything settled down. Italy did have a chance in the 40th minute when Mario Balotelli's shot was deflected by Joleon Lescott resulting in Mario cursing at and kickingnthe post!
Italy kept that same strategy at the start of the second half while the Three Lions decided to wait until the end to pounce. The Azzurri had a real chance in the 52nd minute, but Manchester City's goalie Joe Hart was there to save the day. Things again settled down until the end when England tried to score with Rooney's bicycle kick, but it went over the goal. Regular time expired with the game still scoreless.
For England, another thirty minutes would be tough for they were obviously fatigued. If they could only keep the game scoreless, then they would have a chance at the penalty shoot out. Given their past, that was a daunting thought for England's debacles during shoot-outs are legendary. On the other hand, Italy saw everything I mentioned before and went for the kill. England hunkered down kept the Azzurri out of the goal. The strategy seemed to backfire when Antonio Nocerino headed a cross in that was intended for Balotelli. The stadium erupted with celebration until everyone saw the linesman signal that Nocerino was off-sides. Video replay confirmed that the call was correct and play went on.
Extra time ended like regular time did and both sides went to their benches to work out cramps and plan the order of the shoot out. Buffon looked at-ease during the coin toss which had to resonate with the team. Balotelli's was surprisingly chosen by Prandelli to take the first kick. What drama for he was trying to score on his Man City teammate Joe Hart. The English keeper is famous for talking as a strategy to distract penalty shooters. Mario was ready for that and had some words of his own, especially when he drilled the ball into the left side net! Hart guessed to the right. England's turn next. Captain Steven Garrod, after suffering cramps from giving his all, buried England's first shot to the lower left corner of the goal. Game on: England 1, Italy 1.
Riccardo Montolivo was next up for the Italians. He too tried to go left but over compensated expecting Hart to be there. The result was that it went wide left. He was in disbelief and was worried that he would be remembered for it like one time great Roberto Baggio who missed a critical penalty in the '94 World Cup finals.
Wayne Rooney came up for his spot-kick. Some keepers are taught to guess while other's are taught to read the kicker. To compensate for the latter, players like Cristiano Ronaldo take stutter steps before striking so that they can read if the goalie is guessing. If he is, then no need for power or direction. If he isn't, then a change of speed or another stutter step is used to fake the keeper out. Rooney is one of the world's best players and he was able to get Buffon to guess right while he shot left. Now, going into the third round, the Three Lions were in command 2-1!
Italy, then, sent their most talented striker, Andrea Pirlo, for the third kick. Prilo read Hart for two kicks and saw that he was guessing and so he ran at the ball and as Hart was diving, he just chipped the ball to the center of the goal to the amazement of everyone. That had to put the gris-gris on England.
Ashley Young came to take the third penalty for the English. He decided to go central as well and with power. It was a good decision except that he hit the crossbar dead on! Now Both teams were tied again at 2 - 2. For the fourth kick, Italy sent Nocerino. He too got Hart to guess right and drilled the shot low left. Now the pressure was on England and the entire island had to be saying 'here we go again'! This time England sent veteran Ashley Cole who is quite reliable having made his penalty to help Chelsea win the Champion's League. Cole stuttered on his approach in order to read Buffon. Unlike he did with Young's kick, Buffon took a step up instead of a push to the posts. That caused Cole to guess instead. He went low right, I guess, in order to change things up from the majority left attempts. Buffon read Cole perfectly and dove in a ltextbook fashion to make the save.
Italy, now up 3 - 2, needed only make the next shot to advance to the semifinals. The Azzurri sent 29 year-old Alessandro Diamanti to take the kick. I guess Hart was thinking that the Italians haven't tried the right post yet, so perhaps that is why he dove that way. Diamanti shot left and it was all over.
Both squads still should hold their heads high. For the Italians, they once again showed flair while keeping their goal clean. For the English, they showed that they were maybe the best defensive team in the tournament and as their young strikers improve, their chances for the World Cup two years from now will as well.
Call in tonight and have your opinion heard during Monday Night Futbol on WGSO 990 am. You can call 504-556-9696 and your opinion will be heard by thousands of soccer enthusiasts. If you can't listen live, listen to the podcast at www.soccerinnovationsofamerica.com .
God Bless You All!
|< Prev||Next >|