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   23 May, 2002 | 2000 IST


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Maldini hopes to finish with flourish

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Simon Evans

Italy captain Paolo Maldini says he will be the "happiest man in the world" if he can end his international career with a World Cup winners medal.

But the most capped player in Italian football said he would not be too despondent if he failed to win the title at his fourth attempt.

Paolo Maldini"If we win I will be the happiest man in the world, if not then I can say I had 15 years with a genuinely competitive national team, who have always been in the frame," Maldini told reporters at Italy's hotel.

"On a professional level I can say I have had some outstanding experiences.

"But it is my last chance, that is for sure, and it would be a beautiful way to bow out," said Maldini who will retire from international football after the tournament.

AC Milan defender Maldini, who has made 122 appearances for Italy, has been one of the finest defenders in the world for the past decade and enjoyed great success with the all-conquering Milan team of the early 1990s.


He came close to winning the World Cup with Arrigo Sacchi's team in the USA in 1994 where the Italians lost on penalties to Brazil in the final.

Another penalty defeat followed in France '98 when Italy, coached by Maldini's father Cesare, were eliminated by the hosts and eventual winners.

To add to those frustrations Maldini was also part of Dino Zoff's side which lost, again to France but this time by a 'golden goal', in the final of Euro 2000.

Maldini believes the team has now matured and could be hitting its peak in time for the finals in Korea and Japan.

"For that group who reached the Euro 2000 final we have had two more years extra experience so this could be 'our' World Cup. We are all determined to go all the way," said Maldini.

The Italy skipper said there was not a huge difference between the current team and the other three World Cup squads he has been part of.

"There is not a great divergence. They have all been made up of good people, winners and players who matter," added the left back.

One possible twist in Maldini's final bid to be a world champion would be if Italy's path crossed with Paraguay, coached by his father Cesare, possibly in the quarter-finals.

"I am not really thinking about it but if we did it would mean that we had both reached the last eight and that at least one of us would make the semifinals - that would be a success, at least for my mother," quipped the 33-year-old.

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