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Home >> Sports
UPDATED: 10:50, July 08, 2006
Preview: France vs Italy, both deserve World Cup win
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France and Italy, the two former World Cup titlists, meet in the final of the 2006 edition in Germany on Sunday, and the strength of the two are too close to predict a winner.

The defense and the midfield of the two have been regarded as the best of the ongoing tournament.

Italy had conceded only one goal, an own goal, in its previous six matches at this World Cup while France lost two, one to South Korea's Park-Jisung and the other to Spain's David Villa on a penalty.

As for France, the four starting defenders of France are all from European top league champions, Willy Sagnol from Bayern Munich, Eric Abidal from Lyon, Lilian Thuram from Juventus, and William Gallas from Chelsea.

In the midfield, great star Zinedine Zidane was, is and will play his irreplaceable leading role. Zidane and Thuram will play their final games for France after confirming their retirement from international football.

Each expression of Zidane individualism has aided the French cause, temporarily removing a baffled opponent from the game, the finality of each game liberating him further. Even at his peak in Euro 2000, his balance has never seemed better. This stolid, unexceptional-looking man has never appeared lighter on his feet.

Furthermore, the revival of France is not solely attributable to Zidane. There is the welcome return of Patrick Vieira as a forceful presence in the center of the pitch and the flowering of the talent of Franck Ribery, the impressionable youth surrounded by the veterans of France's ancient regime.

In the front, there is Thierry Henry, whose gradual acceptance that Zidane tops the billing in the French side has made him the most threatening of the supporting cast. If the feeling persists that he can still do more. He has contributed to French goals in each of their past five games.

Henry scored his sixth World Cup goal against Brazil, surpassing Platini on the World Cup top scorer list for France. Henry now only trails France's top scorer Just Fontaine, who netted 13 at the 1958 finals.

As for Italy, defender Alessandro Nesta has been ruled out of the World Cup final in Berlin because of a groin injury.

The AC Milan centre-back has missed Italy's last three matches after aggravating a long-term injury in Italy's 2-0 win over Czech Republic.

However, the absence of Nesta, among the outstanding defenders of his generation, since the group stages, has not been telling. With his central defensive partner Fabio Cannavaro in imperious form, Italy has not conceded without Nesta. Indeed Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon has only been beaten by an own goal from right back Christian Zaccardo in the World Cup.

Defender Fabio Cannavaro, the skipper, is set to collect his 100th cap and become the third Italian player to reach this milestone, joining Paolo Maldini (126) and Dino Zoff (112).

Cannavaro made his international debut on 22 January 1997 in a 2-0 friendly victory over Northern Ireland.

Midfielder Daniele De Rossi returns from a four-match ban for elbowing US forward Brian McBride in the face during the first round, although he isn't expected to start in the final.

The most surprising thing is that this Italian side has married its traditional defensive strength to a more progressive approach. If not kamikaze attacking, there was certainly a spirit of adventure about Lippi's substitutions in the semi-final. Overloading the team with potential penalty-takers, he finished with four strikers on the field and two late goals to defeat hosts Germany.

For the two teams head-to-head results, Italy have played France on 32 occasions winning 17, drawing eight and losing seven, outscoring France by 75 goals to 44. This will be the fifth World Cup meeting of the pair. Italy won 3-1 in the 1938 quarter-finals and 2-1 in the 1978 group phase. France's sole win over Italy came in the 1986 second round (2-0). In the 1998 quarter-finals France beat the Italians 4-3 on penalties after a goalless draw.

The only previous final between Italy and France came at Euro 2000. France won 2-1 through a golden goal by David Trezeguet. Italy led 1-0 until the 90th minute. This match was also the last meeting between the two sides.

Italy have won three World Cups (1934, 1938 and 1982) and one European Championship (1968). They can now become the second nation to win at least four World Cup trophies. Brazil are the only team to have won five World Cup titles.

The title secured on home soil in 1998 is France's most successful result in 11 previous appearances at the World Cup finals. They have not lost a World Cup knockout match in regular time since the 1986 semi-final against West Germany.

The final will be more interesting as Juventus is represented by eight players in the squads of Italy and France. Italy's Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Mauro Camoranesi and Alessandro Del Piero face their French team mates Liliam Thuram, Patrick Vieira and David Trezeguet.

Source: Xinhua

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