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Germany vs. Italy/France vs. Portugal

Thanks to work, I've been stuck watching replays. Nearly missed the German replay too. Caught the last 8 minutes of normal time upwards, but it was a great 38 last minutes of gametime. Both seemed very frustrated by the nil-nil score at that point, and it was clear tensions were high. I had been expecting Italy to play a defensive game for this match, banking on their strength in that regard. There was a rather odd Ballack-Gattuso bump in the second half that I thought was going well, Gatusso and Ballack seemed to have sorted it out nicely, then there was this weird elbowing of Ballack that seemed to completely tick him off. More weird scraps: Grosso's excellent defense of the ball from four oncoming Germans inches from the line that had him on the floor and clinging to the ball with both legs, and the incredible Lehmann Flying Death Elbow into some poor Italian's neck. Well, he did save the ball, but the Flying Death Elbow was great camera fodder.

Another mad Lehmann moment involves an excellent attempt at goal by Gilardino which just hit the post. Lehmann was already grounded, it was a real loss for Italy there, and you could see the ball spin past his fingers. I've developed a grudging respect for Lehmann. He's a solid goalkeeper. Definitely has a great reach. But, the important part of the game was definitely Italy's two very late goals at the far end of extra time. They saved this match from a penalty shoot-out, and propelled Italy into the Finals in the most dignified manner imaginable. Grosso's magnificent curling shot was beautiful to watch. Germany leaving their side to attack full tilt in the dying minutes was an expected but terrible move. As a result, Metzelder was left largely alone during the Italian run down the field, and Del Piero's extra goal made good of this error. Two great goals though, and that means one of the teams I did hope might get into the Finals is now in.

As for the other match, you'd have to pry me off the sofa with a crowbar to miss the replay of France vs. Portugal. Zidane is godly. He is such a charismatic captain for the French side. Tall, broody looking sort that he is, he's quite the presence. There was beautiful noise from the French fans, and I might've failed to mention this before, but it was great to hear them sing all the '98 World Cup themes, including the "Ole Ole Zinadine Zidane" chant for 2 or 3 minutes straight after his goal in the first half. Henry, in comparison, is a bit of a drama queen on the field. Didn't see much of him in this match, except for the fall that gave France the penalty kick. I'm not sure I like that France are going through on a penalty kick. It's better than a penalty shootout, and it was good penalty shot by Zidane, but still.

The French played a defensive game for the most part, conceding ball possession to the Portuguese, who were all out for blood. The game got even more defensive after Zidane's goal, which was frankly frustrating in terms of France being able to do much more than that. The best French attempt at goal was definitely Zidane's pass to Ribery, who appeared pretty much out of nowhere for this to fire a wonderfully powerful shot. It missed, but it was a real Kodak moment all the same. Maniche gets credit for the Portuguese atempts at goal - lovely couple of long-distance shots from him. The Portuguese side were definitely not lacking in attacks, but I do wonder about their style here. Whereas the French were willing to penetrate deep into enemy territory for their attempts, most of the Portuguese shots were fired off at a safe, longer distance. They could've gone a bit a closer with the amount of time they spent in the French side of the field, and probably attempt more accurate shots, but they never quite did. Barthez still had his work cut out for him. Very admirable goalkeeper, another one of those great presences on the field, and extremely good at attacking anything that tried to make it past him. I do mean here that he goes out of his way to lunge at everything un-French within range, and he is a pretty well-built guy for it. (Remember Kahn? That sort of scaring pants off other players-type of build). He made a mistake exactly once, when Ronaldo's free kick bounced out of his hands, but that still bounced safely out of anyone's reach, so it's all good.

I have absolute respect for Ribery, Sagnol and Makelele. They're all subtle players who have these crazy abilities to suddenly pummel out of nowhere and deliver the balls to the right spots. Ribery, in particular, such a great scrapper. Was sad to see him get replaced in the second half. Coolest moment of the game: Zidane exchanging shirts with Figo after the match, as two rival captains, as two former teammates from Real, and a hug. Zidane actually put Figo's shirt on, which is something I haven't seen many other people do with their exchanges, and I did believe that was a great moment. I think Ronaldinho most famously stuck someone's shirt, an Australian's I think, down the back of his pants. Good sportsmanship counts!

So now both the teams I wanted to see duke it out in the Finals made it in. It's going to be a great scrap.

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