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France's football frenzy

Victory over Italy sends a nation into celebration

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Posted: Friday July 03, 1998 05:01 PM


PARIS (CNN/SI) -- France sent a nation into a football frenzy on Friday after reaching the World Cup semifinals for just the fourth time.

Italy sent a nation into mourning -- as much for their display as their dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat.

The French totally dominated the match in front of a crowd of 80,000 at the magnificent Stade de France. Italy had one clear opportunity to score -- and that came in extra time when substitute Roberto Baggio was just wide of the mark.

The Italians, who claim they have the best league in the world and many of the best players, certainly played nothing like they boast. It was dour and defensive stuff. They didn't win their first corner until three minutes into the second half. France had more than 20 more shots on goal than their esteemed quarterfinal opponents.

Only in the extra 30 minutes did they string a few forward passes together a very few mind you.

Apparently, Italy all-but closed down for the match. Shops and offices were on Italian watch. Streets were almost deserted. The only heavily populated areas were the squares where big screens had been erected to show the battle with France.

After the defeat, eager anticipation had been replaced by morbid desolation.

What a contrast here in France.

No sooner had Luigi Di Biagio cracked his penalty against the bar to hand France victory than the streets were full of jubilant French supporters.

Car horns were blaring all around me. Excited fans rushed onto the streets hoping to meet a like-minded soul to celebrate with. They found hundreds and as the night drew closer that turned into thousands.

They once again have a French team to delight in, like the side of the early eighties which reached two World Cup semis and won the European Championship.

In Zinedine Zidane they have a world class superstar, who finds ample and able support from Juventus teammate Didier Deschamps, wonderful defenders Laurent Blanc and Marcel Desailly and exciting forward talents like Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet.

But what about Italy? What do they have to revel in right now?

Defensively they are as sound as ever. Paolo Maldini is a rock at the back and his sundry rearguard colleagues are straight from the top drawer. Gianluca Pagliuca is just one of several fine Italian goalkeepers.

But where was the midfield invention? Where was the creator supreme? Where was the Italian Zidane?

Up front, Christian Vieri made his mark with five goals and proved a handful for most defenses. But Alessandro Del Pierro, injured in the European Cup final on May 20th, never fully regained his sharpness alongside him.

Coach Cesare Maldini would have been better sticking with Roberto Baggio, who started the tournament in tandem with Vieri -- setting him up for one goal and scoring the second himself from the spot in a 2-2 draw with Chile.

Baggio also began the second game against Cameroon. But once he had been substituted in that one, replaced by Del Pierro, the Italian goal-scoring star of USA '94 played second fiddle.

With Del Pierro struggling, Italy was left with the power pace and precision of Vieri, but little else.

Vieri's goal helped them scrape through a largely forgetful second round game against Norway, but not even the in-form Atletico Madrid striker could do anything without a decent service against the miserly French defense.

Italy had nothing to offer and got exactly what they deserved in return.

The tournament is much better off without them.


Related information
Quarterfinal's teams look very familiar
Di Biagio's missed penalty ends Italy's hopes with 4-3 shootout loss
CNN/SI Team Pages: France
CNN/SI Team Pages: Italy
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