Following the final round in the Group of Death, Netherlands eased through with a perfect record, resurgent Italy booked a place in the quarterfinals and France and Romania were eliminated.
In case you missed it, here are brief recaps of today’s Group C contests:
ITALY 2, FRANCE 0: Italy mega-star Andrea Pirlo of AC Milan converted a penalty kick in the 25th minute after French defender Eric Abidal was red-carded for a foul in the box, and the Italians held their nerve from there to win and clinch a spot in the quarterfinals. Daniel De Rossi added a second when his free kick took a wicked deflection in the 62nd minute, and with France down to 10 men, there was no way back for the French. France finishes Euro 2008 with a -5 goal difference.
NETHERLANDS 2, ROMANIA 0: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored in the 54th minute and Robin van Persie added an insurance goal with three minutes to go as Netherlands, playing with largely a reserve side, finished Group C with a perfect record and eliminated Romania from Euro 2008. The Romanians had some scoring opportunities up until the first goal but never seriously threatened Netherlands over the final half hour.
MY ANALYSIS: The notoriously slow-starting Italians did it again. After being drubbed 3-0 by Netherlands in the opening group game and after falling behind 1-0 to Romania in their second group game, the World Champions have once again rallied to advance to the knockout stages of a major tournament.
The achievement is all the more impressive when you consider the Italians were on the verge of elimination when Adrian Mutu of Romania stepped up to take a penalty late in the second round of Group C. Had it gone in, Italy would’ve been eliminated, but instead, Gianluigi Buffon produced a stunning save in that game, and the Italians took care of business four days later.
Over three tournament games, France looked very mediocre and would’ve had no business advancing to the knockout stages, but having pointed that out, I will say they were awfully unlucky against Italy. First, star talisman Franck Ribery is carted off with what appeared to be a serious injury in the 10th minute, and 15 minutes later, they’re down to 10 men after Eric Abidal was sent off for a bad challenge from behind inside the penalty box. Personally, I felt the challenge should’ve been a penalty and perhaps a yellow card, but the red card seemed a bit harsh. Once it happened, though, you never had the feeling that there would be a way back for the French.
Italy’s win sets up a mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup between the Italians and Spain. Like the last World Cup, Spain faces a tricky opponent in its first knock-out game that seems to be hitting its stride at the right time.
In Spain’s favor will be the fact that Andrea Pirlo, the best passer in World Football for my money, and bulldog midfielder Gennaro Gattuso will both miss the game through suspension.
Nonetheless, I like the Italian’s chances against Spain. They’ve been in this situation so many times, and they’ll have all the confidence in the world that they can get the job done.
TODAY’S STAR MAN: Andrea Pirlo, Italy. Watching him is a treat for any football affectionado, and he was on his A game before being subbed midway through the second half. Pirlo’s passing and the way he dictates Italy’s attack make him a joy to watch, and he took his penalty with aplomb in the 25th minute to put the Italians on their way.
TODAY’S TOP GOAL: Robin van Persie’s goal vs. Romania. The goal that sealed Romaina’s fate in Euro 2008 was a beauty. The ball is crossed over to van Persie on the left side. He controls is brilliantly with his chest, touches is past a defender and smacks it well into the net. Well-taken strike.
Russia vs. Sweden, ESPN, 12:45 p.m.
Spain vs. Greece, ESPN2, 12:45 p.m.
For those of you who caught today’s action, what did you think of the proceedings? Any disagreements with my choice for player of the day or goal of the day?