WHEN FRANCE beat Spain I was sure they would beat Brazil, and when they beat Brazil I knew they would beat Portugal.
But can they defeat the magnificent Italians?
Looking at the last six games France have played, it’s easy to see why Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry will never be on the same wavelength, and why coach Raymond Domenech had to devise this 4-2-3-1 system.
It’s the only way he can use a pair of highly individualistic stars who are basically incompatible. That is why Henry played 54 games with Zidane before scoring from one of the great man’s passes.
I reckon Zidane wants Henry to be Ronaldo, while Henry wants Zidane to be Bergkamp.
Zidane wants his striker to be like the exciting Ronaldo of Old Trafford when Real Madrid lost 4-3 in 2003 : stay in the middle, make runs through the middle, but also take the ball with tacklers round you, take a few kicks and hold onto the ball.
Conversely, Henry wants Zidane to be like Bergkamp, who released him early, or Pires, who played one-twos with him.
Clearly, Domenech was never going to play Pires with Henry because a national coach does not want two players who won’t take a kick. One is a luxury, two would be suicide.
Both Zidane and Henry are very individualistic and Henry makes it so hard for his partners that France now play him without one. Very few players can combine effectively with him : only Pires, Bergkamp, Vieira, and Ljungberg.
Dennis Bergkamp’s vision allowed him to specialise in defence-splitting passes, while Zidane turns and feints and juggles and dribbles. He takes seven touches where Bergkamp took two.
EXAMPLE : Brazil game . It’s 0-0 and 44 minutes and Zidane picks the ball up near the left back position, accelerates, leaves Lucio on his arse, leaves Gilberto Silva on his arse, ignores Henry on his left, plays a short ball to Vieira in the centre circle, and Vieira zooms forward and is brought down by Juan, who gets a yellow card.
That Zidane counter-attack breaks a good rule : Don’t dribble in the middle third. Pass it or run with it, but don’t dribble. However, football is about players, and great players make their own rules, and ball-players create unusual situations, ever-varying opportunities.
The crucial difference between Zidane and Bergkamp is this : Zidane dribbles into a position to play a killer pass, while Bergkamp moves into that assist-position off the ball.
So Zidane is more old-fashioned, more improvisional, more cunning, more varied – but less dynamic than Bergkamp.
A maestro who conducts an orchestra playing his own music, Zinedine Zidane works his magic with both feet, moving sideways and backwards as well as forwards, spreading the ball left and right, controlling phases of the play.
But while Zidane is in the middle third, doing things that only Zidane can do, he cannot release his striker with early passes. Thierry Henry finds it hard to dance to Zizou’s tune because what Henry does is so specialised that he can only do it in a team built round him by Arsene Wenger, a team who pass the ball forward very quickly
Bergkamp’s genius was his ability to pick out runners, but his runners were greyhound strikers : Wright, Anelka, Overmars, Henry. They knew what was coming and where it was coming .They also knew when it was coming. It was coming now.
In a nutshell : Bergkamp picked out runners, and Zidane also picks out runners. But Bergkamp’s runners are sprinting strikers, while Zidane’s runners are more likely to run from deep, from midfield, like Ribery or Vieira, or a full back joining in.
So Bergkamp is a catapult who fires you towards the goal, while Zidane is a ringmaster who holds the hoops you have to jump through.
That is why Zidane and Henry are incompatible. Zidane doesn’t make the early passes for Henry, and Henry does not make the right runs for Zidane.
IN MY VIEW, THIERRY HENRY is the most unusual footballer now playing. He does a few things brilliantly and many things not at all, and that makes him very hard to partner. Sometimes he only plays for 25 seconds in a match. He is a spurt player and his spurts often win games, although, so far, they have never won a final. He has missed chances in all his finals.
WILL FRANCE WIN ?
Well, this final will not be like 1998, which was the most bizarre World Cup Final of all time. Ronaldo had a fit and was taken to hospital, Edmundo was on the teamsheet released to the media, and then Edmundo was dropped and Ronaldo re-instated. There was a huge bust-up in the dressing room and Brazil did not come out to warm up. The biggest game of their lives and they didn’t warm up !
Ronaldo played like a zombie during the match and only three Brazilians performed. The others, demoralised, just went through the motions, so the home team had a walkover. France were a very fine side and might have won anyway, but the 1998 World Cup Final was a farce. The biggest sports event in world was a complete farce. And people forget that. They just remember Zidane’s two headers and the 3-0 win.
ON SUNDAY we do not know who will win in Berlin but we know this : Totti will not have a fit and Italy will warm up before the game. And Totti in this tournament, which he started at 70% fitness, is more like Bergkamp than Zidane : he gives his passes early, often first time.
Italy will be organised, unified, and highly motivated. The bribery scandal has given them a unique mission, to save the honour of their country and its national sport.
Buffon is safer than Barthez, Perrotta is craftier than Malouda, Grosso is more versatile than Abidal, and Marcello Lippi is ruthless coach who keeps the same back seven and rotates his strikers. Lippi makes Sven look like an incompetent amateur,
France will need a gigantic performance from Vieira and Zidane, or a goal from Franck Ribery, who has the attitude and drive and bottle of David Rocastle.I like Ribery a lot.
There is a very strong core in the French team.Vieira’s best friend in football is Thuram, and another of his closest friends is Makelele. Gallas is another reliable iron man in that zone, and a possible scorer.(Gamblers :Check out his odds of 40-1)
Before and during Euro 2004 I thought ZZ and PV4, the two big men, would win it for France. That did not work out, but it might work out now. I don’t think so, but it might.
Win or lose , Zidane is retiring on the biggest stage in the world and in the biggest game of this millennium.That is special. That is historic.
And let’s be clear on one thing : Italy have been great for 24 games, since Lippi took over, while France have been great for 12 days, since Ribery equalised against Spain on June 27.
The French would admit that Italy are classier than anybody they have played so far. And the Italians would admit that France are stronger and tougher than anybody they have beaten so far. So it should be a close game and it might be an exciting game, but it certainly won’t be a 3-2 thriller.
Les Bleus will be in white again.The younger team will be in blue.
Have Italy already played their best game ? Or can they do it again?