World Cup Predictions (Final Round)

We’re down to the final two.  After nearly a month of watching some 60-odd games live, the World Cup Final match is only 4 days away.  As expected, France defeated Portugal in the second semi-final encounter.  (They’re now 5 and 0 against the Portugese in International competitions.)  The only surprise for me was how low the final score was.  Zizou, who’s looking as sharp as he did 8 years ago, scored the only goal of the contest:  a penalty kick in the 34th minute.  After their dismal performance in 2002, France are poised to make a dramatic comeback Sunday afternoon.
 
In the other semi-final, Germany were defeated soundly by Italy right near the end of extra time.  It was deadlocked for nearly two hours.  It looked like the game was going to go the way I foresaw it.  However, with just a minute or so away from reaching the penalty kick phase, Italy crushed the hopes of the home team with a beautiful goal in the 119th minute.  2 minutes later, during time added on, another nice goal by the Italians put an exclamation point on the game for them.
 
For the second time in their long history, Portugal could not get out of the semi-final stage.  They’ll be facing Germany in the consolation final (which will determine the 3rd place winner).  Here’s what I predict for the final two matches of the 2006 World Cup.
 
Italy Vs. France (World Cup Final) 
 
So, here we have two very strong former champions battling it out in a return engagement from the Euro 2000 Final (which saw the French prevail).  Both teams are undefeated.  (Italy has the better overall record with one less tie than the French.)  After struggling during the group stage, France has grown in confidence to the point where they’re looking more and more like the dominant nation they were in their home country 8 years ago.  Italy has only conceded one goal in the entire tournament and it wasn’t even scored by the opposition.  (During the group match against the higher-ranked American squad, they conceded an own-goal.)  They have yet to cough up a legitimate goal.  France, on the other hand, have given up 2.  (One from the Koreans and the other from Spain.)  Both Barthez and Buffon have been good when they needed to be.  That will continue in this final match-up.
 
Italy and France have faced each other 7 times since 1938.  (This will be their 5th encounter during the World Cup Finals.)  France have won a healthy majority of their matches (4), Italy have been victorious twice and there has been only one draw.  The last time these two teams faced each other in the World Cup, it was 1998.  It was the quarter-finals and after nobody scored during the 2 hours they played, France won 4-3 during the penalty shoot-out. 
 
Although Italy are a determined bunch and can score in the most timely and dramatic of fashions (their 2 most recent victories came after securing last-minute goals) France are looking deadlier by the second.  They might not have been able to destroy their opponents with endless goalscoring in the last couple of games but they might not need more than one come Sunday afternoon.  I have to go with history.  Italy are the underdogs here and they need to hammer France early and often.  However, if France takes the lead early it will be excruciatingly difficult for the Italians to level the score.  France is going to win the World Cup for the second time.
 
Germany Vs. Portugal (Consolation Final)
 
Both of these teams should be commended for getting as far as they did during a very tough tournament.  No nation goes into these World Cup Finals hoping to finish third.  They want to win that ugly-ass trophy and be forever remembered as champions.  But when you lose your semi-final match, the best you can hope for is bronze.  Regardless, I want to see a good game here.
 
Germany and Portugal have a history that only goes back to 1985.   Most of the games have been played in Portugal, 2 others took place in Germany and then there was that Euro 2000 thrashing that Portugal gave the Germans in Holland.  This series is dead even.  Both squads are 2-3-2.  With the exception of Euro 2000, every game has been close with few goals scored.  Being the home team hasn’t really been an advantage for either country.  Germany have managed 2 road victories while Portugal have won once on German soil.  Germany have never beated the Portugese at home.
 
Once again I’m faced with a difficult dilemma.  Who will win this encounter?  Again, like previous match-ups in this tournament it’s a flip of the coin, really.  Any one of these nations can pull off a victory.  Both go into this match with identical 2006 World Cup records (5 wins, 1 loss).   Both have strong goalkeeping, defensive and offensive power.  Also, both squads have proven their worth during penalty kicks.  But then there’s this.  Germany have not beaten the Portugese since a 1996 Friendly in Portugal.  They haven’t played against each other since the 2000 European Championship and Germany didn’t score a goal in that match.  I think the Germans will have to settle for fourth place.  Portugal will win.
 
After going 1 for 2 during the semi-finals, is it possible to end the World Cup with 2 correct predictions?  I’ll have my answer this weekend.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
6:31 p.m.
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Published in: on July 5, 2006 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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