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This is the stuff! This was a terrific match to watch. The first thing to say is that the Dutch aren't THAT good - they've got some problems, but they've shown up both the finalists from a very average 2006 World Cup for the mediocrities they are (were?).
Briefly, the story of the match, before a bit of comment: the Dutch scored very early from a corner when Malouda was marking Kuyt and didn’t want it half as badly as the blond. And then France didn’t respond, at all. They didn’t press higher or harder, they didn’t throw men forward, they just sat there and kept hoping for little individual things from Ribery (which is always possible) or Henry, or Malouda (pfff!). Thuram was shaky, too, giving the Dutch further occasional chances, and all his mistakes came from lacking the quickness and energy to get his feet right, so he was swinging at things off-balance and heading it in weird directions. He has been maybe the best defender I have seen, but this is the end for him. In the 2nd half, the Dutch put Robben on, and the man showed just how explosive he is and just how wrong Chelsea were to let him go. He made the second for Van Persie (whose shot may have been going wide before it hit the keeper's hand) with a nice cross after carrying the ball 40 yards, and then moments after the French equalised (with the most beautifully delicate, feather-light touch from Henry) he ripped a surprise shot into the roof by the near post. And still the French didn't do much, and the Dutch kept on sending players forward and Sneijder exploited blue sloppiness right at the end when they didn't close him down and he twisted and scored from the edge of the box.
Raymond Domenech, the French manager, is terrible. France have got as much talent as anybody in the tournament and he’s somehow made from that an old, tired, low-intensity, badly organised side that basically crosses its fingers that Ribery will save it. To start the game they were playing the 98-2000 Zidane system (that I really like), with Ribery doing the ZZ role (that system is 2 holding mfds, two wide attackers to pin the opposing FBs back, one central striker, FBs bombing on and ZZ in a free role). But he’s not Zidane (he’s an excellent player; he’s just not Zidane) and in every position bar centre-forward (where Henry is miles better than Guiv’arch) they’re inferior to that French side. Makelele offers very little, and I wasn’t surprised they got nothing in their first game with him and Toulalan combining for a creative void in the centre. And then when they had to chase the game, there was no plan – Gomis came on as pin man, and wasn’t up to it, with Henry shifting usefully to a sort of vague leftish position. When Anelka joined the action he was apparently without a position, unless he’d been instructed to just wander about in the attacking third. And over the tournament, it’s not impressive to start with 2 up and 4-4-2, drop BOTH strikers for the next game and then use another, fourth striker, as first attacking sub in this game. Domenech’s time in charge has been very interesting, because at the w-cup it was obvious from their draws in the first 2 group games he wasn’t much cop, and the players weren’t impressed, but then when they got by a knackered, lazy Brazil they all seemed to suddenly come onside with him. Their earlier reaction was the right one.
Arjen Robben is pretty much as good as Cristiano Ronaldo. There, I’ve said it. He won’t score as many goals, isn’t a threat in the air and he doesn’t play enough league games but he’s every bit as capable of beating opponents in tiny spaces, and he’s as explosive and his balance is at least as good. It was great to see him on at the half, I love watching him. And after he made the second Dutch goal (with a nice cross for Van Persie after carrying it 40 yards) he scored an exquisite third, popping a cheeky surprise shot in at the near post a minute after the French had scored. He's exactly the sort of player the tournament needs, and there's not a match he can't win on his own.
The Dutch aren't as good as this (and the Italy) score suggests though - both of those opponents are over-rated, and they have some problems themselves. The score makes it look as though they locked this down very effectively when they were ahead, but they really didn't. France, playing without any real shape or plan, were able to consistently get Henry into dangerous positions (and he ought to have scored from a glorius Malouda overhead-kicked pass at one point). They didn't go compact and narrow and make the French play round them - they left big gaps and their closing down lacked intensity, so it wasn't unusual for French players to be able to receive passes and turn and look up. There's a chance that if they meet another open side we could get a monumental 4-3 or 5-4 or something in the knockout stages, and it'll be fun to watch, but Holland have vulnerabilities.