Although the country still produces a great deal of talented players, they have yet to generate a clone of the one that they need--Zidane Zidane.
Zidane was the player who drove the French midfield. Without him, the French are still talented, but they lack…design.
Yesterday against Italy it was clear. The Italians hadn’t been ripping the tournament up by any means, but there was little doubt what team was the more likely to advance, even before Franck Ribery went down in the eighth minute. Ribery was the only Frenchman throughout Euro 2008 who had shown any flair. Without him, hope seemed fleeting.
And when Eric Abidal was sent off minutes later, giving Italy a penalty in the process, any sort of hope was just plain lost.
So, Italy survives to where it’s the most dangerous. If they were to make a run to the final, it wouldn’t be the first time an Azzurri side advanced to the bafflement of neutral observers. Like Germany, Italy always seems to find a way.
If a repeat of that history is in the works, it won’t be an easy run. Spain is up first, then, likely, Holland. If Italy were to win this tournament, few would be talking about its inconsistent and uninspiring play in the group stage. Rather, the talk would be all about its amazing run in the knockout stage.
But, for now, most conversation remains focused on Holland. The Dutch kept rolling yesterday, easily brushing aside a Romanian side that had everything to play for. The last time the Netherlands looked this good was in 2004—where it lost in the semis. Where Holland always seems to lose.
With just one day remaining in the group stage this story of this tournament has yet to fully form.
Today: Russia and Sweden play to determine the final quarterfinal spot. The Swedes capture it with a win or draw, Russia must win. Greece and Spain play a meaningless game as well.