Road to Berlin

All eyes will now be on the Semi-Final matches to be played between Germany and Italy on July 5 and the Portugal versus France game on July 8. Except for the Italy-Ukraine Quarterfinal match, which was won by a comfortable margin by the Azzurri’s, the rest of the last eight round games turned out to be heart stopping, all going down to the wire. While Germany, Italy, Portugal were all expected to enter the last four stage (as was predicted in our editorial “Best of the Fours”), the win by France over defending champions Brazil was unexpected. No one will disagree that the Brazilian team was a more impressive unit coming into the quarterfinal stage. But the French were never considered pushovers either. Brazil however, may have been stumped out of the world cup less by the brilliance of France but more by the memory of France 1998 where the Brazilians were outgunned by Zinedine Zidane’s sheer brilliance and the thrashing 3-0 they got may have played in the minds of the Brazilian team. Having toppled the reigning champions, France however is still not looking at their best and it is highly unlikely that the French campaign will go past the Semifinal stage. 

While soccer fans around the world will mourn the loss suffered by the men in yellow and green, Post-Germany 2006 could well witness the emergence of a new power equation among the leading soccer playing countries. It could also mark the beginning of the end of Brazilian dominance in world soccer and the emergence of a more competitive level of play among soccer playing nations. The rise of Portugal ever since their semi-final appearance at Euro-2002 therefore augurs well for world soccer. As the only remaining team never to have won the FIFA trophy thus far, the Brazilians of Europe as they have been dubbed will have no baggage from history to carry. More importantly, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s boys have the attitude to play brave and the tactical luster to beat France and reach their maiden world cup finals. 

Their gritty resolve to win—at all costs—which was displayed in their matches against England and during a hot blooded 1-0 second round victory over Netherlands makes Portugal the most dangerous team left in the competition. As far as Germany and Italy goes, both teams who ever win their semifinal, may not like to see Portugal in the final face-off for obvious reasons. If given a choice both Italy and host Germany may prefer to avoid a clash with Scolari’s unit. Nevertheless, the Italy-Germany semifinal will not be an easy one to predict. The dice could go either way. One observation is whether Germany peaked too early in the tournament. Having been one goal down against arch rivals Argentina in the quarters, Germany is lucky to be still there in the tournament. The Italian’s on the other hand seem to be peaking at the right time. Marcello Lippi’s team when it takes on the host will be on a 23-game unbeaten run. One of those matches was a 4-1 win over Germany in March, though it will expect a tougher test from Juergen Klinsmann’s team on Tuesday. Both teams will have to play out of their skin if it wants to be in that final game July 9 in Berlin. As far as a win for Portugal (against France) is concerned, it will be far from easy, but it is a step closer to Berlin.