The first all-European semifinal since 1982 did not disappoint. I've been known to bitch about Europe getting 16 of the 32 World Cup spots and I traditionally cheer for ABE (Anyone But Europe), but the obvious reality is that they deserve to have that many selections. And they've produced some likeable squads this year. The matches:
Germany vs. Italy - I went into this match thinking that I was going to root for Germany. That lasted until the opening kick, at which point I found myself rooting for Il Azzuri. Just couldn't do it, Deutschland. Italy, who have only conceded one goal so far in the Cup (and that was an own-goal), defended well again, neutralizing the potent German frontline of Klose and Podolski. When they went the first 90 without scoring, I was pretty sure we were going to PKs again and Jens "Cheat Sheet" Lehmann would put the home team into the Final. But the Italians came out like gangbusters and there were plenty of scoring chances in the OT. Still when minute 119 rolled around, PKs seemed inevitable. Then the Italians scored an otherworldly matrixesque bender goal. The Germans were forced to push recklessly forward to try to equalize and Italy got another brilliant goal on a counterattack about a minute later. 119 scoreless minutes followed by 2 goals in 2 minutes to absolutely devastate Deutschland. On a side note, why the hell is Lehmann the only keeper doing his homework on PK shooters? Is Germany the only country intelligent enough to scout the other players exhaustively? And how much would the US have to pay to get Bill Belichick to coach their next team?
France vs. Portugal - At the beginning of the Cup, a friend alerted me to the odds on each of the 32 teams winning it all. Two stuck out as good risk/reward bets: Spain at 16 to 1 and France at 10 to 1. I didn't think either would win, but the odds were high enough that they were worth throwing a fiver down on each. After the first 2 matches by each team, I was starting to get very excited about the Spain bet and not at all excited about the France bet. Then, France started to remember that they were a great team. And now, 4 wins later, they're 90 minutes away from banking me up! The aging Zidane notched the only score of this match by putting a PK past the sublimely unconscious Ricardo, who guessed correctly again, but was bested by a perfectly placed shot just out of his reach. Allez Les Bleus! And please for the love of fifty bucks, catch the damn ball, Barthez.
Updated Power Rankings:
France beat Spain, Brazil, and Portugal, back to back to back. They've earned the VTKPR 2 spot. Italy was all the way down at the 8 spot, mostly because they narrowly defeated the Socceroos and got into the Semi's easy with a win over Ukraine, but outscoring Ghana, Czech Republic, and Germany 6 to 0, and conceding only a single own-goal in 6 World Cup matches gets you the 1 spot. by a hair. The hairless Barthez will let in a goal off a rebound, giving the Azzuri their 4th and denying me my 50.