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France vs Italy – World Cup 2006 Final

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*Italy 1 – 1 France

(Italy beat France 5-3 on penalties)

So this is what winning a world cup feels like…

The Zidane headbutts Materazzi post contains the backstory, video and images from the incident.

There’s also a video of the Malouda dive (that won France a penalty in the 6th minute).

France will go away thinking ‘what if?’, with Vieira, Henry and Zidane all off the pitch when the penalties were taken.

ZidaneHeadButt France vs Italy   World Cup 2006 Final
The price you pay for talking dirty to the big man…

A sad end for Zidane, but I’m sure you’ll hear that from a lot of places. Fantastic play by Henry and Ribery tonight, and Makelele was simply awesome – so good that you almost forgot that Gallas was playing (actually, that was more because of how anonymous Italy were in the final third).

Italy defended brilliantly, and both Cannavaro (who should certainly win the Golden Ball award now) and Materazzi were brilliant.

More on this tomorrow.

Italy vs France – 2006 World Cup Final Preview

The world and the media is caught up in Zidane’s resurgence, but is the World Cup, and football in general, really better off with a France vs Italy final?

Unless France turns their game around starts playing attacking football, or Italy decides to do something about their misfiring forwards, this game could turn out to be ‘yet another chess match’. One where both sides are equally strong in defense and not especially strong in front of goal.

They will cancel each other out, and everything Sepp Blatter can do to ensure this is a ‘fun’, free-flowing final will be rendered pointless because the two sides will cancel each other out.

Unfortunately for Italy, Nesta is out of the final because of a groin injury that prevented him from playing in the last two matches as well. The defender has been desperately unluckly in World Cups – this is the third consecutive World Cup in which he has been sidelined because of injury. Matterazi – that wide-eyed defender who was hit so many times on the head against Germany that I feared he would suffer a concussion – will start alongisde Cannavaro.

Here’s an omen for you – Nesta missed Italy’s last games in 2002 and 1998 – both of them ended in defeats. Against Henry’s skills, Ribery’s pace and Zidane’s magic, you would want Nesta alongside Cannavaro. As it is, Cannavaro, Italy’s captain, the tournament’s best defender, will have to deal with Henry on his own. He has had an excellent tournament and may again turn out to be the best player on the park on Sunday.

In Nesta’s absence, Gattuso’s job in the midfield becomes that much more important. He had a bad game against Germany but Ballack was superbly marshalled by Cannavaro and Pirlo’s control over the center of the park meant that Germany could not break through. Against France, Gattuso will go up against Ribery, Vieira and Zidane, and this time he has no chance of making mistakes.

Gattuso will relish the chance to go up against Vieira and Zidane and the physical mismatch will either totally wipe him out of the game (making it a French win for sure) or turn him into a tireless, indestructable obstacle in front of the Italian defense. Vieira is smart – he will nudge him, push him, provoke him and make the most out of any foul. Gattuso is no saint either – his tackling alternates between that of Roy Keane in his prime (hard but effective) and Paul Scholes at his worst (cynical, needless) but his efforts on Sunday will go a long way towards determining where the match ends up.

In the last 2 games, France has won by scoring and then taking the foot off the pedal – attacking but making sure that they defended first. One goal was enough to take down Brazil, and was enough to dismiss Portugal.

Domenech’s biggest headache between now and Sunday will be to find that goal. With Henry alone up front, the goal will have to come from one of Zidane, Vieira and Ribery. Italy have proven to be as good as France at defending, and Thuram’s resurgence in the last game means Italy’s already ineffective strikers may be totally shutout of the game.

Watching France play Italy could well turn out to be like watching Juventus and AC Milan take on each other at Old Trafford 3 years ago in the Champions League Final. The two sides put defensive solidity at the top of their agendas and ground out 120 minutes before Milan won on penalties.

The longer the game goes on, the more Domenech will come under pressure to do something drastic.

To hope that Barthez pulls a Jerzey Dudek out of his hat against Pirlo, Totti and co. is asking for too much. Buffon is a far better keeper than Barthez and because of that if the match goes to extra-time Italy will surely play for penalties – and unless France makes a mistake (unlikely) or they score a wonder goal (Zidane? Henry? Ribery? I’m split between Cannavaro and Zidane), Italy will get to the penalties and then win.

Not a pretty picture, but this hasn’t been a pretty tournament since the second round ended and the flair sides (Spain, Ghana, Australia, Holland) went out. Germany have excited and attacked throughout (a legacy of Klinsmann playing days) but they were upended by a superb defensive side.

Domenech should play a 4-4-2 with Zidane out on the left and Henry partnered by Trezeguet or Govou upfront. He won’t, but he should. If the games goes to penalties Domenech could also bring on Coupet specifically for the shootout – maybe he should, but I doubt that he would.

France have come through not because of their coach, but because of the brilliance of a few men.

You cannot underestimate the impact Zidane, Henry and Vieira have had on the side. Makele and Thuram – reasons for France’s defensive strengths – came back with Zidane to play for one last World Cup. Henry’s presence has given France the hope that they can score at any time – and that has allowed them to be unhurried in defense and in attack, something that has played to the strengths of Ribery, Malouda and Zidane.

And in Vieira they have the captain-by-example. He fights, he defends, he runs at defenders. His presence allowed Zidane to take the first two games lightly and helped him find his feet. Without him France would be sitting home – without him France would have struggled to beat Togo.

Zidane’s presence in the game – and the constant pep-talks given to him by Thuram and Makelele – points to an experience few of us can come close to understanding. Here is a man who, at the end of a poor season, has just said goodbye to Real Madrid. He retired from international football some time ago but came back for the chance of glory, one last time. By all reasonable expectations he is what Roy Keane was an year ago – a fading light.

But in three games, he has turned the World Cup on its head. He has not played at his best but those flashes of brilliance have been enough – his freek kick that lead to the second goal and then scoring that third goal against Spain, his setup for Henry against Brazil, his unstoppable penalty against Portugal. He is a man at the limit of his abilities driven only by emotions. People point to Zidane as the sole reason Thuram and Makelele are now playing – Zidane could well point to those two as the reasons he is still able to play.

But what of Italy? Before Toni’s double against Ukraine he hadn’t scored at all in the tournament, and the lack of goal-scoring form for Italian strikers (if you need Grosso to score for you, you’re in trouble) will worry Lippi. Against Gallas, Thuram, Sagnol, Abidal, Vieira and Makelele the Italians will be going up a massive, massive brick wall.

Makelele and Vieira will play Totti off the park – he will either have to show that he’s worth the hype or make way for the far more effective Del Piero.

Italy may decide to go with a 4-4-2 to shake up the French – but coaches hate making changes at this stage because they don’t want to be blamed for mistakes.

This is one match where I won’t make predictions. I want Italy to win, but that is subjective and biased. The match could be decided on penalties, and that’s a worry many fans will have as well. In the age of defensive football, we are bound to see top sides playing highly entertaining but ultimately goalless matches.

Expect a highly-physical, bruising match. No one will care about yellow cards, and with referees under specific instructions to give as few cards as possible (and both the Italians and the French guilty of diving), there will be tackles flying in hard and fast.

Zidane vs Gattuso, Henry vs Cannavaro, Pirlo vs Makelele, Totti vs Gallas.

And before we forget – the enormous egos on either sides – Cannavaro, Pirlo on one hand, Vieira, Zidane and Henry on the other.

Milan vs Juventus all over again? I hope not.

It will, in the end, depend on Zidane. If he can turn it up, France will go for the win. If he can’t, or is shackled by Gattuso, Pirlo, Perrota, Zambrotta and Camoranesi will always feel that they have a chance to score.

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