Saturday, July 08, 2006

World Cup final preview - Italy v France

The final is now upon us - and with respects to the third place play-off tonight, all eyes are now focusing on Italy and France to see who will be lifting the trophy tomorrow evening.

Looking at how the sides have played in the latter stages of the tournament (particularly Italy) and the potential that both sides can still show looking at the talent they have (particularly France), it is set up to be a good game. Hopefully 'big match' nerves will not play a part in the
game and reduce it to a cautious encounter but we will see the attacking play both sides are capable of.

There are a lot of side issues surrounding the final as well to give it an even greater level of interest. Of course, it is Zinedine Zidane's final game in football and surely there cannot be a better game in which to call time on your career? Staying with France, in their line-up will also be other players who may well be hanging up their international boots, whilst Italy came into the tournament under shadow of the Calciopoli trial and then had to deal with the Ginaluca Pessotto incident.

Interestingly, whilst teams such as Argentina, Brazil and even England secured their group qualification after two games, both Italy and France went into the final group games with the threat of elimination hanging over them. But, I don't think it can be argued that in a World Cup without one dominant side in it, that these are the two teams that deserve to be there.

France stuttered in the early stages, but came alive in the second-half against Spain and then dumped Brazil out of the tournament with Zidane conducting the show whilst Italy have shown an attacking purpose and intent not seen from too many other teams in the tournament.

How do the sides match-up then? There are a lot of interesting one on one battles in this game but the one key match-up for me will be Pirlo v Zidane. Pirlo, not having the driving capability of Zidane, matches the passing and vision that Zidane possesses. The majority of attacks will go through these two players and this match-up for me will decide the outcome.


The semi-final's showed the two goalkeepers perfectly. Buffon (at 0-0) pulled off a fantastic save from Podolski on a rare moment that Germany got through, whilst we saw Bartez make a hash of a free-kick and was lucky to see Figo head over.

Buffon is a tall, strong, dominant goalkeeper who rarely makes a mistake and is capable of keeping a side in the game. He is also 65 minutes away from setting a clean sheet record in the World Cup. Bartez though, gets the job done and has not conceded much in the tournament either.

Edge: Italy


Both sides possess a strong, committed defensive unit who will not give the opposing forwards an inch. Italy will not be as strong without Alessandro Nesta, but Matterazzi has filled in well for him and will be alongside Cannavaro - whose contest with Henry will be crucial. A key for Italy is the performance of the full-backs. Both Zambrotta and Grosso attack with intent yet do not shy away from their defensive duties.

Lilian Thuram is the key for me in the French defence. Likely to be his last game for les Bleus, he relishes a physical challenge and will be used to playing against Italian forwards. Partnered by Gallas who is a quick, mobile defender. They are joined by Sagnol on the right who is strong defensively but doesn't offer much in attack and on the left by the weak link Eric Abidal. Abidal looks suspect defensively though and this is an area where Italy could profit.

Edge: Italy


The key area. In my semi-final preview, I gave Germany the slight-edge over the Italians in this area but this is where Italy won the game. Perrotta and Gattuso showed more than 'scrapping' qualities, whilst Camoranesi impressed in a more forward role. For me though, a lot rides on Pirlo. Undoubtedly his best game for Italy in the semi-final, he will pull the strings in the midfield being the perfect link from the defence through to Totti in attack. He is calm on the ball and shows a range of passing and vision that not too many players possess.

For the French, on paper they are stronger. The main three of Vieira-Zidane-Makele are a strong a trio that is around but have failed on most occasions to deliver together. If they play as they are capable we will see a strong Makelele, energetic Vieira and inventive Zidane. They are joined by two younger players in Malouda and Ribery. I tipped Ribery to shine in the tournament, and although he has sparkled at times he hasn't shown what most people thought he was capable of. Italy will have their work cut out in this area, and will need to shut down Zidane.

Edge: France


Both sides will likely field one lone striker - Henry for France and Toni for Italy. Italy will supplement this with Totti, whilst France look to get Ribery, Malouda and of course Zidane in support.

Henry, with three goals has not hit the heights he would have wanted to in the tournament and will be keen to prove himself on the 'big stage' to rid the tag of failing when it matters. Toni is a power forward, but only has the brace against Ukraine so far. Totti is coming into his own and now fully fit showed the world class talent he has against Germany.

The supporting cast favours the Italians, with Iaquinta, Gilardino and Noel Gallagher's best friend Alessandro del Piero ready to come off the bench, whilst France call on Wiltord on Govou.

Edge: Italy


Raymond Domenech has seemingly battled against ex-players, the media and his own squad during his reign as national manager. He has got France this far though and seems now to have the respect of the side, who have bought into his methods and approach.

Lippi - the old master, has revamped the approach of Italian football. Throwing off the defensive shackles of the Trappattoni era, he has introduced a freer, more attacking style of play and it suits this side well. He has been pro-active with his tactics, in particular his substitutions in the Germany game and clearly he has the ultimate respect from his squad.

Edge: Italy


The main focus in the press leading up to the game has all been about Zinedine Zidane and his attempt to crown his career with one last triumph. It would be a fitting end to a career that will see him go down as the one of the true 'greats' of the game.

Italy have more a collective spirit about them, with off-field events bringing them close together as a unit and a lot has been made of the scandal back in 1982 when looking at this side and tournament.

The overriding factor in this though is Zidane and will it be enough to for the extra 'edge' to see France home?

Edge: France


Perhaps it won't be a thriller, but I anticipate a tight game and as a contest it will be an absorbing. Hopefully both sides will get to show their attacking instincts to give us a memorable final.

Italy are 8/11 to win, whilst France are out at 11/10 and I am surprised it isn't a little close than that. France are being tipped to win by many but my feeling is that Italy will triumph 1-0 with Pirlo the goalscorer.

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