Italy and France prepare for World Cup final
7 July 2006, BERLIN - It may not be the match most people would have predicted but the quality on offer when Italy take on France in Sunday's World Cup final in Berlin could not be higher - or of a better vintage.
7 July 2006
BERLIN - It may not be the match most people would have predicted but the quality on offer when Italy take on France in Sunday's World Cup final in Berlin could not be higher - or of a better vintage.
An older generation of stars have shone at the 2006 football festival in Germany, while defences, continuing a trend in the modern game, have predominantly been on top.
It all adds up to the familiar figures of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo and Gianluca Zambrotta, who are all up for the best player award, taking centre stage as a massive television audience watch on.
Les Bleus may be the more senior of the sides but you have to get up pretty early to better the Italians at protecting their goal. The Azzurri, who will wear their blue on the night, have conceded just one goal in their six games and that an own goal from Cristian Zaccardo. Italy have been reassuringly accurate at the other end too. Coach Marcello Lippi's management of his forward men has led to 11 goals - joint top with Brazil and Argentina - scored by 10 different players.
Coming successfully through a tough-looking group involving Ghana, United States and the Czech Republic, Italy overcame Australia and Ukraine before defeating hosts Germany with dramatic late goals from the unheralded left-back Fabio Grosso and veteran forward Alessandro Del Piero. And all this with the alleged match-fixing scandal back home brewing up negative news on a regular basis.
France, meanwhile, struggled to progress from a relatively easy group, needing a last-game win over Togo after draws against Switzerland and South Korea. It was a different story in the knockout stages where coach Raymond Domenech settled on a strategy of packing midfield and defence before launching quick-fire attacks to exploit the cunning of Zidane and the pace and opportunism of Henry.
After putting Spain to the sword (3-1), the 1998 champions neutralized their successors Brazil in a surprisingly one-sided quarter-final and after Zidane struck a first-half penalty, the French defence never really looked like being breached against a frustrated Portugal.
Sunday's final could well be the last international game for many stars on show, including Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Claude Makelele, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero. But the thoughts of players from France and especially Italy are more likely to turn back to the dramatic final of the European Championship six years previously.
Then, Italy grabbed an early lead through Marco Del Vecchio only for Silvain Wiltord to equalize in the last minute and David Trezeguet to hit a golden goal winner.
And although Italy defeated France in the 1938 final to win their second crown, Les Bleus hold a better head-to-head record. The Azzurri were sent packing by France in the second round at Mexico 1986 and in the quarter-finals, on penalties, at France 98. Apart from that early final 68 years ago, Italy came out on top against their France only in a group game in Mar de la Plata at Argentina 78.
"The recent confusion (match-fixing scandal) has given us the desire to respond," said Lippi who hopes to lead Italy to a fourth title. "It's brought this group of players together. We wanted to show what Italian football really means."
Domenech, too, heaped praise on his team's efforts.
"It's an advantage having experience in our side," he said. "They know what it takes to win tight matches, but they have also proved they are capable of suffering."
Lippi and Domenech are far too learned to have the word revenge enter their discourse on the game but when these two footballing neighbours meet, serious rivalry is never too far away.
Zidane's last game, Cannavaro's 100th cap and no suspensions, Italy-France has the makings of a classic - the tournament certainly needs it.
Subject: German news