BERLIN: One flash of inspired genius might be all that separates France and Italy at the end of Sunday's World Cup final, which is likely to see the defences of both sides dominate.
With the Italians having conceded only one goal, and France conceding just two, the outcome could hinge on a single slip or mistake - or by one flash of brilliance.
Naturally, if one team can dominate midfield they will hold an advantage, and Italy must start as favourites as they hold the slight advantage in almost every department from goalkeeper to attack.
Italy coach Marcello Lippi and his French counterpart Raymond Domenech have altered their tactics throughout the competition but both appear to have found settled formations now.
Both are employing systems featuring lone strikers supported by two attacking midfielders - which puts the onus on the midfielders to create as many chances as they can.
Luca Toni took on the target man role for Italy against Germany but was later replaced by Alberto Gilardino - Lippi will choose between those two again unless he opts to play both with just Francesco Totti in the supporting role.
Argentine-born winger Mauro Camoranesi, who along with Totti has the job of operating just behind the frontman, was one of the few players to disappoint against Germany and Lippi might be tempted to sacrifice him for a second striker.
The rock solid defence, marshalled magnificently by captain Fabio Cannavaro, has been the foundation of Italy's run to the final but it is the midfield where the battle could really be won or lost.
Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo were outstanding against Germany with Gattuso's controlled aggression perfectly complimenting the class of Pirlo's intelligent passing and movement.
The pair will be up against two of the toughest central midfielders in the game however in France's Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira - the outcome of that midfield match-up will go along way to determining the pattern of the game.
Italy's midfield lacks width but the Azzurri have made up for that through the contribution of overlapping fullbacks Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Grosso - both have scored in the tournament and both have created goals.
Their approach will contrast significantly with France's where Zinedine Zidane, playing the last match of his illustrious career will try and prompt attacking moves for Thierry Henry and Franck Ribery.
Domenech is expected to keep faith in the team who started France's last three matches, a compact 4-2-3-1 formation with Zidane in the playmaking role and Henry on his own up front supported by the likes of Florent Malouda and the speedy Ribery.
Before the tournament, Domenech had never fielded the same team in successive matches but he now seems to have found the right formula with an almost equally watertight back four as the Italians.
A fan of Italian football, Domenech believes in a tactical, defensive approach with just one key attacker in Henry. Although he has scored three goals in the tournament, he is not the same lethal finisher for France as he is for Arsenal, although still a permanent danger.
David Trezeguet, who has hardly been used so far, knows all about breaking Italian defences and looks the perfect man to bring on if fresh legs and ideas are needed to decide the game.
France have few weaknesses but Fabien Barthez in goal has been less impressive than Italian counterpart Gianluigi Buffon so far and could show signs of nerves.
Source: China Daily