Well, that was a buzz-kill for all the neutrals watching. Two thoughts after Italy joined the Netherlands in the quarterfinals with the Azzurri’s 2-0 win over France (while the Dutch beat Romania 2-0):
• Man of the Match: Italy’s Andrea Pirlo. Italy’s deep-lying playmaker had been nowhere near as good in Euro 2008 as he was in World Cup ’06—until today. Pirlo probed the French defense with several dangerous passes, but none was better than the perfectly weighted ball he sent from behind the halfway line over the top to Luca Toni in the 24th minute. In a marvelous piece of skill, Toni trapped Pirlo’s pass with the tip of his fully extended right foot and drew the game-changing red-card penalty on France’s Eric Abidal. As if on cue, Pirlo took his penalty with the supreme confidence of a man who knew he’d make it. The only wrong step Pirlo took was a big one: his first-half yellow card means he’ll miss Italy’s quarterfinal match against Spain. That’s a big, big loss for the Azzurri.
• Crazy Ray Domenech outdid himself. I’m trying to figure out how the astrology-loving French coach already has a contract in hand through World Cup 2010. You just knew Domenech would do something dumb to hurt his team in this game, and he came through yet again. The red-carded Abidal hadn’t started in central-defense all tournament, and while the benched Lilian Thuram has lost a step, his lack of speed wouldn’t have been an issue covering big Luca Toni. Nor can I understand why Domenech would keep four defenders and two defensive midfielders on the field for the entire 90 minutes when his team needed at least two goals to survive (and got none). Then again, the French could have had Sir Alex Ferguson managing them, and that wouldn’t have changed the fact that Franck Ribéry’s seventh-minute injury (and substitution) was a killer for Les Bleus—which is still trying to find its identity post-Zinédine Zidane.
Through-balls: I’ve been saying all along that I think Italy could still do some damage in this tournament, and while Spain will be tough, an Italian “upset” wouldn’t surprise me at all ... Terrible luck for Thierry Henry to redirect Daniele De Rossi’s free kick into his own net for the second Italian goal. (It must have been horrific for Henry to watch the ball curl in from distance.) Do you think the 30-year-old Henry is done for France, or does he return for World Cup 2010? My guess is he hangs around for at least two more years ... Thumbs up to the irrepressible Dutch, whose reserves took down Romania. If I were a player and had so many people questioning my honor (i.e., assuming that I’d tank a game), I’d have a big problem with that ... I really hope Ribéry isn’t seriously injured. It’s a shame that such a big-time talent would go down early in this game, and it would be even more so if he’s out for a long period ... Time for the French to truly ring in the youth movement. Old guys like Thuram, Claude Makélélé and Patrick Vieira have had great international careers, but the FFF has a vaunted youth development program for a reason ... All that said, I’d make an exception for Zidane in a heartbeat if he wanted to come back.
With Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso out for the Spain quarterfinal on yellow-card suspensions, who do you think Italy should put in their spots? How badly do you think their absence (especially Pirlo’s) will hurt against the Spanish? And can anybody stop the Dutch? Please post your comments below and check back tomorrow for the next Euro Blog post ...