The World Cup becomes a one-continent affairAfter two penalty shootouts, the elimination of the defending champs and Italy’s fourth shutout of the tournament, all of the semifinalists will probably ask for the winning purse to be paid in euros.
Germany, Italy, Portugal and France have advanced to the final four. It marks the first all-European semifinals since the 1982 World Cup in Spain, with Germany, Italy, France and Poland.
Early yesterday, Korea time, France dumped defending champion Brazil 1-0 on a second-half goal by Thierry Henry in a match between the last two World Cup winners. Brazil had won 12 consecutive World Cup games since France beat them in the 1998 final, 3-0.
French captain Zinedine Zidane, who will retire after the World Cup, set up the Henry goal with a free kick in the 57th minute. It was his first assist on an Henry goal in their international careers. They have played 60 games together.
After barely reaching the second round, Zidane and France have now eliminated two favored opponents in succession. In the round of 16, France knocked out Spain, 3-1.
“We fought closely together for a well-deserved victory,” Zidane told reporters in Frankfurt. “We don’t want to stop now. We want it to carry on.”
Having reached the quarterfinals with an entertaining brand of soccer featuring fancy footwork from the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano, Brazil was surprisingly quiet on the offensive end, recording only one shot on goal. The five-time champions were trying to reach the final game for the fourth consecutive tournament.
“We had talented players, we worked hard, but there was something missing,” Brazil’s coach Carlos Alberto Parreira told Reuters. “Maybe the players did not train together long enough.”
While Brazil is headed home, its former coach marches into the semifinals. Luiz Felipe Scolari, who won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 and now heads Portugal’s team, extended his personal World Cup winning streak to 12 with the 3-1 penalty shootout win over England.
The last time the two nations faced each other was in the quarterfinals of Euro 2004, where Portugal prevailed 6-5 in a shootout. The Portuguese repeated the trick for Scolari, who turned down an offer to replace current English manager Sven-Goran Eriksson after the World Cup.
The teams played to a taut 0-0 in regulation, trading several scoring chances. Portugal found itself with an advantage in the second half after English captain David Beckham left the game in the 50th minute with an ankle injury and forward Wayne Rooney was sent off in the 62nd minute for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho. Luis Figo’s strike in the 78th minute and Hugo Viana’s low drive 10 minutes later were both saved by Paul Robinson.
In the shootout, Robinson’s counterpart shined. Ricardo denied Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Jamie Carragher, and gave Portugal the chance despite two misses of its own, by Viana and Armando Petit.
“Penalty shootouts are a lottery. I train well, too, but I’m not going to tell you my secrets, then you will know everything,” Ricardo told Reuters. The 30-year-old goalkeeper sent England home at the Euro 2004 by saving one and scoring the clincher in the shootout.
“I’m not the hero. The hero is the whole Portugal team,” he said.
England has now lost for the fifth time in the last six shootouts in World Cup and European Championships, and failed to end its 40-year drought in World Cup.
And Eriksson ended his five and a half years as England’s first foreign coach the same way he ended the last World Cup: ousted in the quarterfinals.
“It will take me a long time to get over this,” he told FIFA’s World Cup Web site. “I was convinced we would get to the final with a squad of this quality.”
The quarterfinals saw the end of another coach’s career. Jose Pekerman, head coach for Argentina, said after the team’s 4-2 shootout loss to Germany early Saturday that he will no longer be with the team.
“For sure, I am not going to continue,” the 56-year-old told The Associated Press. He has been coaching Argentina since September of 2004.
“A cycle comes to an end and I will certainly not go on,” he said. “I am convinced that I did whatever was within my reach. It’s time to look for something else.”
The loss was tough to swallow for Argentina, which was leading 1-0 with 10 minutes left on a header by Roberto Ayala. But then Germany’s second-half substitute Tim Borowski set up Miroslav Klose with a heading pass for his fifth goal of the World Cup.
Pekerman’s strategy of ratcheting up the defensive intensity by taking out playmaking midfielder Juan Riquelme and forward Hernan Crespo for defensive midfielder Esteban Cambiasso and physical but plodding forward Julio Cruz, backfired.
The two left the game in the 72nd and 79th minutes, respectively, and it was in the 80th minute that Klose tied things up. Without its top playmaker and most dangerous goal scorer, Argentina couldn’t get the offense going the rest of the regulation and in extra periods.
Then in the shootout, Jens Lehmann, who has usurped Oliver Kahn as Germany’s starting goalkeeper, rewarded coach Juergen Klinsmann’s faith by stopping two shots, from Ayala and Esteban Cambiasso.
When Lehmann made the final save, nearly 72,000 fans at the Berlin Olympic Stadium erupted with singing, chanting, and flag-waving. But the dramatic end was marred by pushing and shoving on the field.
Officials had to separate German and Argentine players who scuffled for several minutes after the match. The German players were celebrating in the center of the field when Argentina reserve Leandro Cufre, who did not play, argued with midfielder Torsten Frings and reserve forward Gerald Asamoah.
Officials intervened and showed Cufre a red card. Other players from both teams gathered and began pushing and shoving each other. Argentina’s players said a gesture and taunting by Tim Borowski, after he scored a penalty shootout goal, sparked the fracas.
German assistant coach Oliver Bierhoff told reporters afterward that defender Per Mertesacker “was struck with full force in the leg. He was on the ground, [and] players started going for each other.”
FIFA communications director Markus Siegler said Cufre will face a disciplinary panel and German players and officials could also be punished.
Saturday’s another quarterfinal match brought much less drama. Italy frustrated Ukraine with its stifling defense and opportunistic offense in the 3-0 victory, matching its highest goal output of this World Cup.
Forward Luca Toni scored twice in the victory, his first two of the World Cup, and fired more shots at critics from Italian media circles who had doubted whether he would play well in Germany.
“To be honest, I felt I was being targeted. I received a lot of criticism,” Toni said in a news conference in Duisberg. “But I never lost faith. The coach [Marcello Lippi] always had confidence in me, even when I wasn’t scoring.”
As Ukraine’s president Viktor Yushchenko watched from the stands, the World Cup neophyte was exposed as a team with little to offer offensively beyond striker Andriy Shevchenko.
When Italy had rare defensive lapses, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was there to help the team, his best save coming in the 49th minute on a header from Andriy Gusin.
Shevchenko later called Buffon “the greatest goalkeeper in the world.” No opposing player has scored against the Azzurri’s defense so far. The only blemish has been an own goal by Cristian Zaccardo against the United States in the first round.
“This is a very satisfying win,” Lippi told FIFA’s World Cup Web site. “[The match against Germany] is going to be very tough but we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
And Ukraine gave everything it had, said its coach Oleg Blokhin.
“There is no such thing as good or bad luck here,” he told Reuters. “The Italians have a great team, and they don’t forgive mistakes.”
Italy will take on Germany Wednesday in a rematch of the 1982 final, when Italy last won the World Cup. France squares off against Portugal in the other semifinal game on Thursday.
by Yoo Jee-ho