France's football frenzy
Victory over Italy sends a nation into celebration
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After the defeat, eager anticipation had been replaced by morbid
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
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
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
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
The tournament is much better off without them.