Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sportszilla's World Cup Final Preview
By Imtiaz Mussa

This is it. France vs. Italy for the 2006 World Cup title. There was so much controversy surrounding both teams heading into this tournament but they have survived it thanks to some spectacular performances to reach this point. This will be it for Zinedine Zidane as the French captain will hang it up.

Italy vs. France
July 9 – 2:00pm EST

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. The Azzurri 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). This was the last time Italy lost a World Cup knockout match within 90 minutes. 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 defender Alessandro Nesta has been ruled out of the World Cup final in Berlin because of a groin injury. The AC Milan center-back has missed Italy's last three matches after aggravating a long-term injury in Italy's 2-0 win over Czech Republic. Marco Materazzi continues in defense alongside skipper Fabio Cannavaro. Midfielder Daniele De Rossi returns from a four-match ban for elbowing American forward Brian McBride in the face during the first round, although he isn't expected to start.

France's Zinedine Zidane and Lilian Thuram will play their final games for Les Bleus after confirming their retirement from international football.

Key Matchup: Zinedine Zidane vs. Gennaro Gattuso
It will be up to the AC Milan defensive midfielder who has been an unsung hero in this World Cup to limit Zidane. If Gatusso is successful, it puts the pressure on Ribery and Henry to make things happen but with the way the Italian defense has been playing, that will be a tough task. If Zidane is successful, he could give Henry the room he needs to do something no opponent has done in this World Cup. Score on Buffon.

Zidane has been taking the fans’ breath away this entire World Cup. Can he do it again? I don’t think so. The Italians might be putting together the greatest defensive performance in World Cup history. They are defending as a unit and flying forward on counter-attacks. French goalkeeper Fabian Barthez has looked shaky during this entire tournament. Luca Toni and Francesco Totti are fully aware and will attack. The Azzurri will win their fourth World Cup in an exciting contest.

Final Score
Italy: 1
France: 0


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