Sunday, July 09, 2006
Well, here we are, the World Cup will be over in three and a half hours at most. You'd have got fantastic odds (and some strange looks in the betting shop) if you had predicted this final. Yet everything seems to have fallen perfectly in to place, you have the Italians rocked by domestic scandal (as they were before in 1982 when they won the world cup) and sixteen of the twenty three strong squad are at clubs which face possible relegation after tomorrow's court trial ends. France were supposed to be too old, the coach was reviled by the nation and Zidane was a shadow of the man who won the cup for them back on home soil in 1998. These circumstances though have perhaps been the very things that drove both teams to Berlin tonight. Italy appear to have been galvanised by the troubles back home and the trial seems to have had the effect of uniting the players - of course, having a manager with a record as good as Lippi's doesn't hurt... France have been spurred on by the resurgent Zidane, wanting to sign out in style, the France captain retires from football after tonight's match.
Fortunately both teams are able to field the same teams that won the semi final match and no player misses out through suspension - quite remarkable considering the card happy refereeing of earlier games. Italy will rely on the dogged Gattuso to contain Zidane (not a big ask then!), whilst Viera and Makelele will have to keep close watch on Pirlo (many people's alternative player of the tournament) and Totti. The two lone front men - Henry and Toni may well find themselves starved of service in what should make for a cagey game of midfield keep ball. The danger area for France is the attacking threat posed by the industrious Italian full-backs - Zambrotta and semi final hero Grosso, the result could well hinge on how Ribery and Malouda assist Sagnol and Abidal in keeping the Italian duo pegged back. France will be relying on Zidane to take control of the game and play in the two wingers to support Henry. A big liability for France is surely the goalkeeper, not many people would take Barthez ahead of Buffon and the former Manchester United man will have to keep his concentration firmly on the game, any mistake could be crucial. Much depends on the performances of the enigmatic Henry and Totti, neither player has really turned it on in the tournament and it's getting very late in the day to be thinking about making your mark.
With 20 minutes until kick off then, I really ought to finally decide who I think will win this match. So, I see a very tight game with little to choose between the two sides; I think at the end of normal time, the game will still be tied - either goalless or one-a-piece. As with the semi final, Italy really wont want the match going to a shootout and will kick on, at the same time, the French legs must surely go - with an average age of over 30 and a calendar month of high intensity football behind them it's almost a certainty. My only hope is that Zidane can sign out in style, as possibly the greatest footballer of the last decade or so, it's nothing more than he deserves.
Verdict: Italy win (in extra time).
Tags: world cup | france | italy
That he didn't do. Such a shame.
People keep saying to me it was a case of Zidane losing his head, I'd say more using than losing. Whatever Materazzi said or did, you can't condone a running headbutt, what is he? Some sort of billy goat?
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