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india Updated: Jul 08, 2006 23:15 IST
Highlight Story

Rarely have World Cup finals shown the spark befitting the planet's obsession with the game. Such global attention has probably been the reason for no first-half goals in the last match of the past four editions. Forget goals in the first 45 minutes, it took 12 years since Jorge Burrachaga broke German lines for world champions to be decided without penalties.

A football match without goals is like a garden without flowers, Teofillo Cubillas once said. Those that contested the final matches of 1990 and 1994 World Cups certainly didn't know what the Peruvian legend meant. With defenders being the star performers in the class of 2006, Sunday may not buck the trend.

No World Cup finals have seen as few goals (2.27 per match) since 1990, a piece of statistic slurred further by bookings which have hit a high. Between themselves, Italy and France have let in half the number of goals Argentina scored in one group match.

What makes football so fascinatingly unpredictable is that Argentina went out last month. So did Brazil. Having trained quietly and in peace so far, Italy have been besieged by fans who arrive in droves at their Duisburg base. Marcello Lippi's squad hit Germany with more people talking about Gianluigi Buffon's betting tendencies than his shot-stopping skills.

It got worse with Gianluca Pessotto's suicide attempt and calls for top clubs to be relegated. The situation of world champions playing in the third division is at least a theoretical possibility. But here they are, contesting for a fourth world title.

Raymond Domenech's relations with the press and a squad looking like a 1998 reunion certainly wasn't the right mix of championship material. Or so the world thought. But the French coach was always sure of playing the final and now his country is singing 'Allez Les Bleus'.

So maybe the trend of sterile summit showdowns --- even Brazil were hardly soul-stirring on way to the fifth World Cup crown --- will be reversed. Maybe, there will be an early goal and the match will open up proving Lothar Matthaeus and Goeff Hurst wrong.

We live in hope. Even otherwise, there's reason to be positive. A defender's World Cup shouldn't be mistaken for dour, soulless matches. This competition has seen many twists to the plots, each more dramatic than the other. And Fabio Cannavaro and Lillian Thuram can make the art and craft of keeping opponents in check seem classy when not spectacular.

Also, isn't it appropriate that the winners of two of the best matches this time are playing for the title? Wasn't France's toppling of Brazil bettered only by Italy's triumph over Germany in Dortmund? Both teams have the settled look of sides who were unbeaten in
six matches.

His groin played up against the Czech Republic, meaning that for the third successive World Cup, Alessandro Nesta got hurt during the tournament but Italy have more than learnt to live without him after Marco Materazzi teamed up with skipper Cannavaro, who plays his 100th international on Sunday.

Since Florent Malouda was preferred to Sylvain Wiltord against Togo, France too have changed the line-up only because of injury or suspension. So, it will be a battle between rivals who have clashed at least once in a major final. David Trezeguet then took away what seemed Italy's for sure and two years after winning the World Cup, France were champions of Europe.

There isn't much that the teams don't know about each other --- during the semi-final against Portugal, as Zinedine Zidane floated a free-kick, an Italian journalist instinctively said Patrick Vieira will get a header --- which he did --- and there is very little by way of advantage one has over the other.

With Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti in the middle, Italy use two playmakers but France use the wings more through Frank Ribery and Malouda. Gennaro Gattuso will have to cut out Zidane in his farewell match and though no one knows the enormity of the task better than the bearded medio, Italy won't put it beyond him to keep the French master quiet. "I can do one or two little things," Gattuso said.

They have named a pizza after Gattuso in Italy's base. If he is successful in keeping Zidane subdued, Gattuso will have many things named after him. Reason enough to stay up for one last midnight snack on Sunday.

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