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History suggests tight final in prospect
Timothy Collings | July 07, 2006 16:05 IST
In four games from 1938 stretching across 60 years to 1998, they have met twice in Paris, in the quarter-finals, once in Mexico, in a second round contest, and once in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in an opening-round group clash.
Only once, in Paris, on June 12 1938, has either side scored three goals -- holders Italy winning that first confrontation in the finals 3-1 thanks to two second-half strikes from excellent centre-forward Silvio Piola.
That game, played in front of 58,455 partisan spectators, is remembered as much for the anti-Fascist atmosphere at the Yves du Manoir stadium as for Piola's goals.
Thousands of Italian anti-Fascists had escaped to Paris, but were dismayed when the famous Italy coach Vittorio Pozzo sent his team out in an all-black strip.
The Italians went on to beat Brazil [Images] 2-1 in a semi-final played at the Velodrome in Marseille and then defeated Hungary 4-2 in the final in Paris, Piola scoring twice more.
Italy captain Giuseppe Meazza received the trophy with a Fascist salute and Pozzo became the only manager to win the World Cup twice.
Forty years later, they met on the second day of the 1978 finals at Mar del Plata, the Italians winning again, 2-1, despite Bernard Lacombe heading France in front after 37 seconds.
This was the France team, coached by Michel Hidalgo and led by superb goalscoring midfielder Michel Platini which developed into the side that reached the 1982 and 1986 semi-finals and in between won the 1984 European Championship on home soil.
Italy, however, had an experienced team and after Paolo Rossi equalised, substitute Renato Zaccarelli scored the winner early in the second half.
The third meeting, in the second round of the 1986 finals in Mexico, saw France win for the first time, Michel Platini, in sublime individual form, and Yannick Stopyra scoring the goals in a 2-0 victory at the Olympic Stadium.
It was a result that began to tip the balance towards the French, by now established as a major European power with Platini as the team's cavalier talisman, creating and scoring goals with equal ease.
But it was to be another 12 years before they met again -- in the 1998 quarter-finals at the Stade de France in Paris, where the French squeezed through to the last four with a 4-3 penalty shootout triumph following a goalless draw.
Five of the Frenchmen who took part in that tight struggle are still on duty for Sunday's final in Berlin -- Fabien Barthez, Lilian Thuram, David Trezeguet, Thierry Henry [Images] and Zidane -- but only two of the Italians, outstanding captain and central defender Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Del Piero.
Zidane, Trezeguet and Henry were all successful from the spot that day.