Monday, December 3, 2007

An intimate setting for a clash of old foes - Byebyebadman

The 2008 European Championships will be a tournament of familiarity. In Group A the Swiss and Turkish players will exchange pleasantries just a few years after kicking their way to brutal injury and suspension in a World Cup qualifying play-off in Istanbul. Group D will see Spain, Russia and Greece in opposition, just as they were in the group stages four years ago. Neighbours and rivals Germany and Austria meet in the final matchday of group B in Vienna, which recalls unpalatable memories of their mutually beneficial and grotesquely manufactured result in Gijon in 1982. Romania and Holland were paired together in qualifying and are together again in Group C, although this will be overshadowed somewhat by the presence in the group of Italy and France, who on 17th June 2008 in Zurich will meet once again in international competition.

That date marks twenty-two years to the very day that I first saw France and Italy play each other. The World Cup in Mexico opened my eyes to the wonders of football outside of England and that summer I was, like many others, bewitched by the French midfield of Giresse, Tigana, Fernandez and Platini. In the knockout phase they faced Italy, a meeting of European and World champions, which the French deservedly won two-nil. It was Platini, he of Italian heritage and captain of the mighty Juventus, who chipped in the crucial opening goal to help secure their first competitive victory over Italy in sixty-six years.

That victory could be said to be an example of one national footballing stereotype winning out over another, with French flair outwitting Italian defensive acumen. The next time the two teams would meet they proved to be so closely matched in all departments that it kicked off a decade of international rivalry that the continent has not witnessed since the fractious contests between Holland and Germany in the late eighties and early nineties.

Firstly, Luigi di Biagio smashed a penalty against the crossbar to hand victory to the French in the 1998 World Cup quarter-final in Paris after two hours of goalless, tense football. The Euro 2000 final was a far more liberated affair, where a Toldo mistake in the last minute of normal time and a Trezeguet golden goal cruelly snatched away victory from the Italians. Revenge on both counts came for the Azzurri in Berlin just over a year ago, where Trezeguet’s missed penalty in the shootout was mercilessly punished and Italy claimed their fourth World Cup. Since then the French have taken four points out of six in Paris and Milan to just pip their rivals to first place in their qualifying group for Euro 2008.

Although over the period France just about have the upper hand there is no doubt control in this seemingly ongoing battle currently lies with Italy, having snatched the biggest of prizes away from the French in Germany. That match is of course notorious for the incident between Zidane and Materazzi that ended with the greatest player of his generation being sent off in his final game. To use a parallel with the Germany and Holland rivalry mentioned earlier, the incident has cranked up the tension in the same way as when Rijkaard spat on Voller and both were sent off at Italia 90. Revenge will be uppermost in French minds in Zurich, not just for the World Cup but for the ignominious end to the career of their former captain.

Thoughts now move to next June. As the final game in what on paper looks one of the toughest groups an international championship can ever have known, the progression of both teams could hang in the balance during that ninety minutes in the tiny Letzigrund Stadion in Zurich. Veterans of the previous meetings – Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram and Fabio Cannavaro have played in every encounter between the two sides in the last decade whilst Patrick Viera, Alessandro del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon have been at least in every squad – are used to surroundings of far more grandeur like the San Siro, the Stade de France, the Olympic Stadium in Berlin or the de Kuip in Rotterdam. Although the stadium boasts a ghastly athletics track around the pitch, it’s capacity of just under thirty thousand promises to make this a more intimate occasion than the rival sets of players are accustomed to.

And they may meet further down the line – with UEFA’s decision to split the tournament into American football style conferences where groups A and B provide one finalist and C and D the other, there could potentially be a semi-final in Vienna should both teams qualify from the first round and win their quarter-finals. So we are guaranteed one, but there could be even two acts to come in international football’s greatest modern rivalry.


guitougoal said...

Thanks for the nice reading Bybye.
Modern rivalry :Brazil-Argentina- Mexico-USA - Germany-Holland.
enjoyed the read and will be back later for more comments...

guitougoal said...

btw, the Marco Materazzi controversy is back already and heating the first press meeting with Domenech.

Yrsa Roca Fannberg said...

It is bound to be an exciting group. I am not sure how good France are, they don't really seem to have a manager but some kind of strange spiritual figure who is just into weird stuff.
Team that have been tough in the qualifying games will probably not be that tough.

Great to see some past rivalry.

gg said...

guitou -

why omit England-Andorra from your list of modern-day rivaries?

guitougoal said...

not anymore, the special one is campaigning for the most important job in the world with the help of the english press.

gg said...


great - The Moaner as Queen will be a definite improvement on Charles,

I assume he'll have to take over her corgies as part of the deal.

If you go to the GU news blog, you can help us select a new national anthem, too; I have suggested "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life".

guitougoal said...

moi,on the gu blog news?it's like throwing fresh meat inside the lion cage.But I am surprised that you of all people didn't suggest:
"a little less conversation"
"I just can't help believin"
here is mine: "José a la casa"

probably the best Adidas commercial on footy

guitougoal said...

Romania could be the spoiler in this group/
They leaded the Dutch in qualifying and have great coaching not to mention their star players as Chivu or Mutu and Cosmin Contra.
As far as the pairing of Italy and France, it's interesting
that they meet last. This match could turn out to be almost meaningless if both are already qualified.

byebyebadman said...

Hi guitougoal

Interested to read your response on modern rivalries. Brazil and Argentina have met in Copa America finals, The Confederations cup final and the qualifiers regularly over the last five years, but the rivalry is akin to the one between Sugar Ray robinson and Jake la Motta i.e. very one-sided. Argentina seem to suffer a complete mental collapse when they play Brazil, particularly in the most recent meetings, I think the aggregate score is 10-1 to Brazil over the last 3 matches.

So they'll need to give Brazil a bloody nose sometime soon to even it up a bit. Just checked the fifa site for the qualifiers and they play each other in Brazil on 17 June next year, the very day of Italy against France.

guitougoal said...

True byebye,but I meant "rivalry" for the intense passion generated by these events.....

byebyebadman said...

Oh I know, historically it's always been a big rivalry. Just meant to make the point that of late it's been very one-sided, don't doubt the intensity of the occasion for a second.

Just think it would be cranked up even further if they had traded significant victories over each other, like Italy and France have (plus four of their five mentioned were level after ninety minutes).

guitougoal said...

Mystery-chemistry or Key-mystery? hard to figure out why France has been doing well against Brasil and not Argentina, inversely for the french vs the argentinians.

offsideintahiti said...


cool stuff! Loads of memories there, thanks. I'll add a more developped comment when I have a moment. (The hammock strings got tangled again, life is tough.)

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