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Totti's final chance to shine on global stage
Simon Evans | July 08, 2006 16:16 IST
No-one in Italy doubts that Totti is one of the greatest talents their country has produced and among the very best players of the past decade.
But outside of the peninsula opinions on the 29-year-old AS Roma captain are much less certain for the simple reason that he has rarely shone on a global stage and long before the World Cup said he may quit as an international after it finishes.
Wonderful goals and sublime passes in Serie A have earned him the admiration of those who follow Italian domestic football but those moments of genius have been much rarer in the big international tournaments.
At Euro 2000, then Italy coach Dino Zoff could not decide whether Totti was a midfielder or a striker.
But he played an important role in Italy's run to the final where they lost to Sunday's opponents, via a golden goal, earning the man of the match award in the final.
Two years later, Giovanni Trapattoni decided to build his team around Totti for the World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan [Images].
During qualification Totti was in fantastic form but at the finals he failed to live up to expectations and ended the campaign with a sending-off in the humiliating second-round defeat to the Koreans.
In the European Championships in Portugal two years ago, Totti's reputation suffered an even bigger blow when he was handed a five-match ban after television cameras caught him spitting in the face of Danish midfielder Christian Poulsen.
With Totti sidelined and shamed, Italy failed to qualify from their group and another competition ended bitterly for the Azzurri.
In the meantime, AS Roma's failure to compete at the business end of the Champions League has meant that Totti has not been visible in Europe's biggest club competition.
This World Cup then was to be Totti's big chance to show the world exactly why his countrymen rate him so highly but once again he has not been able to demonstrate his best form.
In February, Totti broke his ankle in a Serie A match against Empoli and there was a fear that he might not even be able to make the trip to Germany [Images].
Intensive work from Roma and Italy's medical teams got Totti in the position where he could make a couple of substitute appearances at the end of the season and turn up at Italy's pre-World Cup training camp.
He arrived in Germany still well below peak condition. Before the opening match against Ghana the playmaker described himself as "60-70 percent fit" but coach Marcello Lippi decided to try to play him into form.
Having played a modest part in Italy's three group games, Lippi decided to leave Totti out for the second-round tie against Australia but he came on as a second-half substitute and ended up converting the last-minute penalty for victory.
His fitness has improved through the competition and although he was subdued for large parts of the semi-final win over Germany he lasted the full 120 minutes including extra-time.
Up until now Totti's greatest success was to inspire Roma, his only club, to the Italian title in 2001, an achievement which ensured his idol status in the capital where he was born.
Now the Italy number 10 has the chance, in Sunday's final, to show the world his full array of skills and go from local hero to world champion.