World Cup Semi-Final Predictions

2 for 4.  50%.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.
I correctly predicted that France and Italy would move on to the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup Finals.  Italy handily beat the Ukraine (the 28th ranked team in the tournament) by a score of 3-0.  Thierry Henry, Mr. Offside, scored the best goal of the finals when he perfectly tipped (or "toe poked", as the commentator John Helm described it) Zinedine Zidane’s perfect free kick from outside the box in the 57th minute during the game against defending champs Brazil. 
Incredibly, Argentina, my pick to win the whole thing, gave up their 1-goal lead against Germany in the 80th minute of that match and then blew it during the penalty kick stage, thereby ensuring the home nation would be one step closer to winning another World Cup.  And what the hell happened to England?  Beckham gets hurt and leaves the game against Portugal early in the second half, Rooney gets rightfully red-carded for cracking some nuts with his boot and after 2 hours without a single goal, they manage one successful penalty kick during that phase of the match.  (The Portugese keeper, Ricardo, was magnificent.)  It was a dreadful result. 
After witnessing all the dull quarter-final matches, here’s hoping the semi-finals provide all of us with some much-needed excitement.  Here’s what I think will happen:
Germany Vs. Italy
This is one of the great rivalries in soccer.  The Germans and the Italians have faced each other 13 times since the 1962 World Cup in Chile.  The most famous Italian victory was in 1982 when they defeated the then-West German national team in the Final match that year.  Italy has won 5 encounters while their Teutonic rivals have managed to beat them on 3 occasions.  The other matches all ended in ties.
This is yet another extremely difficult one to call.  Like the match between Argentina and Germany, both of these great soccer nations are capable of winning big matches like this at any time.  However, the Germans haven’t defeated the Italians in 11 years.  The most recent encounter took place earlier this year during a friendly in Florence.  (Italy thrashed Germany 4-1.)  You would think that Germany have a great advantage playing on home turf this time around.  But when facing Italy at home, Germany’s record is 1 win, 1 loss and 2 ties. 
Both teams have scored plenty of goals.  Both have solid goalkeeping.  What will be the difference?  2 words:  penalty kicks.  3 of the 4 quarterfinal matches got to that level after 2 hours of game play.  Germany are unbeatable during the penalty kick phase of a match in the World Cup.  (They’re 4 and 0.)  The Italians, on the other hand, are very shaky.  (They’ve lost more than they’ve won.)  If the game remains tied after 2 hours, which I’m counting on, I have no doubt who will come out on top.  Germany will win.
Portugal Vs. France
My beloved England is out.  The defending champions are also eliminated.  In their place are Portugal (who should form their own diving team) and France, the 1998 Champions.  They’ve played against each other 4 times since 1996.    France won every match.  There have been at least two goals scored in each of these encounters, so I’m predicting a rare high-scoring game in the semi-finals.  (I’m thinking we’ll see at least 3 goals.) 
Although Portugal will see the return of all their suspended players (like Deco), it won’t matter.  Much like Brazil, Portugal will struggle against a very determined French team.  The French are looking so good right now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win their second championship.  If Argentina had gotten past Germany, I might not have noticed their improved play and therefore would’ve disregarded them as a potential repeat winner.  Portugal remains the only nation in the tournament who has never gone all the way.  This will be as far as they go this year.  France will win.
I’ll be back again for 2 last predictions:  the consolation game to determine 3rd place and the World Cup Final match.  Until then, let’s see some exciting soccer for a change. 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 1, 2006
5:58 p.m.
Published in: on July 1, 2006 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

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