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France stuns champ Brazil

Posted on Sun, Jul. 02, 2006 | 07/02/2006 | France stuns champ Brazil

By Camille Powell
Washington Post

FRANKFURT, Germany – The French players were supposed to be too old, the Brazilians too good for Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal to have ended this way, with France in the semifinals and Brazil heading home.

But it was the French, with a starting lineup that featured five players 30 years or older, who darted around the field with style and purpose and energy. It was the Brazilians, with two of the world’s greatest offensive players, who were lethargic in attack and sloppy on defense. And it was Les Bleus, spurred by a masterful performance from 34-year-old midfielder Zinedine Zidane, who claimed a 1-0 victory over the defending champions and earned the final spot in the semifinals.

Zidane, set to retire once the World Cup ends, set up the goal in the 57th minute with a free kick volleyed in by Thierry Henry. France will play Portugal on Wednesday; there will be only European teams in the final four for the first time since 1982.

This was a rematch of the 1998 Cup final, won 3-0 by France. Brazil hadn’t lost a game in the World Cup since then — a record 11 consecutive victories — and it entered Saturday’s game as a decided favorite.

“It’s a hard moment for us,” Brazil Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said. “It’s very hard when a Brazil squad is beaten in the quarterfinals. I wasn’t prepared — no one was prepared to leave. No one thought we’d leave before the finals.”

But Les Bleus have now won three consecutive World Cup meetings between the teams. In 1986, France bettered Brazil on penalty kicks in a memorable quarterfinal in Mexico. Twelve years later, France won its first — and thus far only — championship with an inspired performance, including two goals from Zidane, in front of a home crowd.

But much had changed for Les Bleus since they raised the trophy in 1998; they crashed out of the 2002 tournament without a victory or a goal, and were held scoreless in their first match in Germany.

But Coach Raymond Domenech’s “little team of old men” proved in a 3-1 victory over Spain in the round of 16 that it is capable of special performances. And as one banner in the stadium proclaimed, “Old France is Magic.” Particularly Zidane.

In the very first minute against Brazil, Zidane danced away from trouble, his feet flashing in what appeared to be gold shoes. Midway through the half, he juggled the ball around Kaka, a player 10 years his junior; Zidane bounced the ball off his right foot, his thigh, and then volleyed it with his left. In the second half, he beat Ronaldo by flicking the ball in the air and then heading it past the forward, who seemed rooted to the ground.

“It’s Zidane,” Domenech said. “You seem to be surprised. I’m not surprised at all; we know exactly what he is capable of doing.”

Brazil chose not to mark Zidane with a specific player — “Brazil does not mark individuals,” Parreira said — and the midfielder helped France control much of the game.

In the 57th minute, Zidane, on the left side, floated a free kick from about 30 yards out, and somehow Henry — who has scored more goals than any current French player — was left completely alone at the far post. An easy right-footed volley gave France the winner.

“We needed a great match and we delivered,” Zidane said. “We fought closely together for a well-deserved victory. . . . We don’t want to stop now. This is so beautiful, we want it to carry on.”

Parreira had decided to reduce Brazil’s “magic quartet” of attackers: Ronaldo, Ronaldinho — the reigning two-time world player of the year — and Kaka started the game, but forward Adriano was left on the bench. Ronaldinho was listed as a midfielder, but he played up top alongside Ronaldo, the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer.

But Brazil was wasteful offensively, taking only one shot on goal. Brazil attacked furiously in the final five minutes but came up empty: A Ronaldinho free kick went just over the crossbar, and a Ronaldo blast was blocked by defender William Gallas.

At the end, the Brazilians seemed stunned, while the French players celebrated wildly. Zidane seemed somewhat subdued; he will get to play another game.

“I think it’s precisely because he’s going to retire that he’s fully invested in this game,” Domenech said of Zidane. “He doesn’t have to calculate anything, and every moment could be the last one.”
Mercury News wire services contributed to this report.

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Jose makes a Mess of the game.

Sky Sports – The Best Sport Coverage From Around The World

No Messi-ng for Jose
By James Pearson | Friday 30th June

Argentina coach Jose Pekerman is likely to have a long look in the mirror on Friday night following his side’s exit from the World Cup.

The South Americans, who many thought were the favourites to win this summer’s tournament, were sensationally dumped out by hosts Germany.

Things looked good for Argentina with Roberto Ayala’s powerful header shortly after half-time giving Pekerman’s charges a lead.

However, with the game entering a crucial stage, Pekerman made a host of baffling changes – opting to leave wonder kid Lionel Messi on the sidelines.

Pekerman did have his hands tied in that he was forced into bringing on Leo Franco for injured keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri after 72 minutes, but he still had one change left up his sleeve.

Rather bizarrely he took off Hernan Crespo, who had not had a sniff up front and ran his socks off, for the ineffective Julio Cruz.

With all three changes made, having brought on Esteban Cambiasso for Juan Roman Riquelme, starlet Messi would not have the chance to shine.

While Cruz did score from the penalty spot in the shoot-out he added little during extra-time when Germany had basically ten men with Michael Ballack a mere spectator.

Messi would have torn Germany apart, as he did when impressing off the bench against Mexico last weekend, but it was not to be as Argentina crashed out on penalties.

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Why the World Cup is better than the Olympics

Let the games begin

Jun 8th 2006
From The Economist print edition

SEVENTY years after Jesse Owens sprinted to victory in the 1936 Olympic Games, the Berlin Olympic stadium is once again at the centre of the sporting world. Football’s World Cup, which starts this week, will come to a climax with a final in the refurbished Olympic stadium in Berlin next month.

Fortunately, the political overtones that made the Berlin Olympics such a sinister event are completely absent. This is not just because Germany is now a democratic country. It is also because the World Cup, unlike the Olympics, is wonderfully difficult to manipulate for political purposes. Over its long history, success at the Olympics has usually been a fairly accurate measure of global political power. Although the world now remembers the snub that Jesse Owens delivered to Nazi theories of racial superiority, the Germans came top of the Olympic medal table in 1936, reflecting the Nazi regime’s growing power. During the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union repeatedly struggled to gain a symbolic victory, by winning the most medals at the Olympics. Already a similar, politically charged battle for supremacy between America and China looks likely in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

By contrast, the World Cup has its own hierarchy, which is pleasingly divorced from the global pecking order. There is a sole superpower—Brazil. The Italians and French, apparently doomed to gentle decline in the real world, remain formidable competitors on the football field. And then there are the rising powers—which are more likely to hail from Africa than Asia. America will field a serious team at the World Cup, but nobody expects it to win. The Chinese, who have discovered a passion for football, failed to qualify for the tournament.

Football’s power structure reflects a satisfying characteristic of the global game. Despite the undoubted prestige to be had by becoming champions of the world, it is extremely hard—if not impossible—for a determined and well-resourced government to create a World Cup-winning team. Arguably, the Italians managed it in the 1930s; and Argentina’s World Cup winners in 1978 received plenty of backing from the ruling military junta. But a modern-day dictator who ordered his minions to create a team that could beat Brazil—or even play in their style—would be swiftly disappointed.

How to run rings around the Olympics
Again, the comparison with the Olympics is striking. Think of all those robotic East German sprinters, Romanian gymnasts and Chinese swimmers churned out by state-backed programmes. By contrast, a winning football team needs not just athleticism but also a spark of creativity and style that cannot be manufactured by sport’s central planners. Even taking drugs does not appear to be much help for footballers.

As a result, every World Cup seems to throw up a team that suddenly clicks at the right time and beats a much-fancied opponent. Think of North Korea vanquishing Italy in 1966 or Senegal turning over France, the reigning champions, in 2002. It is this capacity to surprise that helps make the World Cup such a gripping event. And it is why in the endless competition between the Olympics and the World Cup for the title of “the world’s greatest sporting event” we vote for the World Cup.

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