While yesterday ended in silent-era slapstick farce (or a Vietnam war movie, perhaps?) today’s play started with full-on soap opera tragedy. The match was no classic, and the Italians spent most of the first half maintaining the status quo, unhurriedly passing the ball about while keeping an eye out for attacking opportunities. The dismissal of Materazzi marked a minor pivotal point in the match, giving the Australians a better chance to play some meaty, determined football, even if they floundered repeatedly against the impenetrable Italy defence. With Harry Kewell on the pitch, even if only for the last five minutes, I’m sure the Aussies could have snatched a goal, but we’ll never know.
Conceding a penalty deep into added time, knowing that the referee will blow the final whistle immediately afterwards, is one of the harshest ways of losing a football match. It’s even more harsh when that penalty is awarded in error.
Ukraine 0 – 0 Switzerland
(Ukraine win 3-0 on penalties)
Artem Milevskiy, I salute you.
After 110 minutes of the most turgid, uninspired football I’ve seen so far in this World Cup, Oleg Blokhin suddenly remembered he had a promising young striker (from Ukraine’s Euro Under-21 runners-up team) on the bench. For ten brief minutes, Milevskiy brought the game to life, making dangerous runs down the wing and providing the missing link in the forward line along with Shevchenko and Rebrov. Then, in the inevitable penalty shootout, he took the first successful penalty with an audacious chip. If Blokhin doesn’t play him from the start against Italy, Ukraine have very little chance of progressing any further.
And what happened to Switzerland? Their goal remained unbreached once again, at least during the standard part of the match, but the goals have dried up completely… they couldn’t even score in the penalty shootout.
Speaking of the penalties, that was the first shootout of this World Cup, and probably one of the worst I’ve ever seen (Spain/Ireland at Euro 2004 was almost as inept). Two of the unsuccessful Swiss penalty takers hit the ball low… a risky ploy, for which they were punished. Even the mighty Shevchenko did the same! Apart from Milevskiy’s cheeky feint-and-chip move, the successful Ukrainian penalty takers did the right thing, aiming for the “unsaveable zone”… shoulder-height, and as close to either post as you dare.
Let’s all pray to the Football Gods for some fast, attacking football tomorrow, eh?