Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Made in Italy
It's fairly common knowledge that they often allow their opponents the lion's share of the possession, almost goading them into an attacking posture, so as to catch them unawares on the breakaway. This sort of agent provocateur football is certainly disliked by the purists, who often point to Helenio Herrera's Inter Milan side of the 60's as the apostles of anti-football, and assert that most Italian sides since then have tried to ape their tactics, to a large extent.
This is no doubt partly true. But there is one feature of the Italian style which has always impressed me: the urgency, precision and elegance with which they attack - and often score - on the break.
Perversely enough, breakaway goals are often the most exciting to see. The finest team goal of the previous World Cup was unquestionably Senegal's equaliser against Denmark in the opening round. A textbook breakaway goal, from a sweeping move out of defence.
Italy's first goal at the 1998 World Cup was an azzurri classic. Chile, their opponents, had committed eight men to attack; the ball was cleared following a Chilean set-piece, and swiftly launched upfield to the incomparable Roberto Baggio. He advanced, saw Christian Vieri making an intelligent run to his right, and released the ball at the perfect moment. Vieri charged on and shot powerfully past the keeper Tapia.
One of the best features of that goal for me was that there was not a second wasted in the move. Chile went from crowding around the Italian penalty area to going a goal down in the space of little more than five seconds.
When asked to name the finest team goal of this World Cup, ninety-nine fans out of a hundred will no doubt point to Argentina's wonderful second goal against Serbia-Montenegro. It was, indeed, a beauty. A long sequence of passes ended with a sublime one-two between Hernan Crespo and Esteban Cambiasso, Crespo's delightful back-heel allowing Cambiasso to burst through and score.
My vote goes to Italy's second goal against Germany in last night's semi-final.
Although the finish to Argentina's goal was superb, those who make so much of the two dozen or so passes they strung together in the lead-up should perhaps remember that much of that lead-up play was somewhat mundane. For Alex del Piero's goal, once again, not a moment went to waste.
It was nothing less than a breakaway manual. To wit:
1. Clear the ball out of defence
Fabio Cannavaro, so magnificent for Italy throughout the tournament, won the initial header from a German cross, and then rushed forward to claim the ball again from a weary Lukas Podolski. Without ado, he touched the ball on for Francesco Totti.
2. Send the ball quickly upfield
After one brief look up, Totti played the ball crisply into the feet of Alberto Gilardino. The Milan striker brought the ball to the edge of the penalty box, faced by Christoph Metzelder, and took it this way and that, apparently striving for an opening. Another possibility soon presented itself.
3. Use the extra man
The key to the breakaway strategy. If the other team has committed men to attack, there will be spaces in the defence. On this occasion, Germany's right side of defence was left unmanned. Alessandro del Piero raced to take advantage, and Gilardino, after cutting inside into a position from which he could quite easily have taken the shot himself, slid it through beautifully to del Piero.
This was the best part of the goal. Jens Lehmann did nothing wrong; he advanced on del Piero, cut down his angles, but it wasn't enough. The Juventus man sent a peach of a right-footed shot into the far corner, making perfect use of the narrow angle Lehmann had left him.
A goal of the finest Italian vintage, and well worthy (even if it wasn't technically "the winner") of sending the azzurri to the World Cup final.
Good work on the blog, I'll keep it favourited.