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Don't expect a high-scoring WC final

Even with all the offensive flair on both sides, defense will decide the title on Sunday in Olympic Stadium.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2006 17:57 IST

No Italian opponent has scored in this World Cup. France has allowed two goals overall.

Even with all the offensive flair on both sides, defense will decide the title on Sunday in Olympic Stadium.

The Azzurri have been so impenetrable in six matches that only Cristian Zaccardo got the ball past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Zaccardo plays defense for Italy.

Germany probed and pressed throughout its semifinal and went 120 minutes without ever finding the net. Indeed, the Germans had only a handful of dangerous opportunities with one of the most powerful offenses in the tournament.

Australia displayed a strong attack in the first round and then was blanked by the Italians. Ukraine, with striker Andriy Shevchenko, didn't get on the score sheet in the quarterfinals.

"We're not going to disappoint, we're going to play our game," Buffon promised.

That game features textbook technique in the penalty area, led by captain Fabio Cannavaro.

"Cannavaro has been unbelievable at this World Cup, I don't think there is any doubt that he's the best defender in the world," coach Marcello Lippi said.

Even when opponents have space to shoot, they cut it too fine and miss the net. Or Buffon catches or parries away shots.

Buffon believes his team faced a bigger challenge eight years ago against the French, when Italy lost on penalties in the quarterfinals after a goal-less draw.

"There's certainly less to worry about than in '98," he said Friday. "In '98, we had to play France at their home, and they were all eight years younger and at the peak of their games. We were really afraid of them and we suffered a lot because of that."

France has no reason to fear any team after outplaying Brazil in the quarterfinals. But the French weren't quite so effective with the ball against Portugal in the semis.

Their defense? Impeccable.

"We don't concede goals," said Thierry Henry, France's leading scorer with three goals in the tournament. "Everyone fights and fights together. When we need to make the difference, we make the difference.

"After we scored the penalty, we defended like lions," he added of the victory over Portugal.

Such regal defense will be needed again Sunday because, even with their defensive personas in the World Cup, both teams bring a wealth of attacking talents.

Ten different players have scored for Italy, led by striker Luca Toni with two. But it has been Francesco Totti and Andrea Pirlo that has sparked the attack, and Fabio Grosso is among the tournament's most effective defenders near the opposition's net.

Even such players as Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi have made major contributions as substitutes.

France has midfielder extraordinaire Zinedine Zidane, who has recaptured the form he used to win three FIFA player of the year awards and to lead France to the 1998 championship.

Henry, although his marksmanship could be more precise, always is a threat, and Patrick Vieira's recent performances rival any of his teammates'. For all that attacking acuity on both sides, a 1-0 result is entirely possible, perhaps, even inevitable. The defenses simply are that strong.

"Our defense is pretty good and our goalkeeper is pretty much unbeatable," Lippi said.

"We were convinced from the start that defensive cohesion would be the key to success," France defender Willy Sagnol said.

"It is not an iron defense. It is a high-performance defense. "The true cognoscenti will say that this is soccer. A solid defense is the key to success. We knew this from the start."