Teams aim for final score

Defensive-led Italy, France to decide World Cup today

July 09, 2006|By GRAHAME L. JONES | GRAHAME L. JONES,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BERLIN -- Today's World Cup final involving France and Italy is too close to call.

Les Bleus and the Azzurri are mirror images, except that France will be wearing white at the Olympic Stadium while Italy will retain its traditional blue.

Third-place match Germany tops Portugal, 3-1. Pg 10D

World Cup Finalists

Italy

Appearance --16th

Best performances --Winner in 1934, 1938, 1982.

First-round results --Beat Ghana, 2-0; drew with the United States, 1-1, and finished with a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic.

Second-round result --Beat Australia, 1-0.

Quarterfinal result --Beat Ukraine, 3-0.

Semifinal result --Beat Germany in extra time, 2-0.

Stars --Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero scored in the last two minutes of extra time to stun the hosts at Dortmund. Grosso has made many penetrating runs from the back line, while the Italians have seen technical brilliance on defense from Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has not been beaten by an opposing player.

Outlook --The Italians have either ignored or been inspired by the soccer scandal tearing apart their sport back home. The Germans couldn't break down their staunch defense, and Italy's skills at launching volleys to clear the ball from danger have been incredible. Coach Marcello Lippi has been masterful in his substitutions, getting the best out of his bench as well as his starters. Italy has had 10 players score, led by Luca Toni with two. And Toni, the leading scorer in Serie A last season, has had little impact. If Italy's defense remains so rigid and smart, the Azzurri should bring home the trophy.

France

Appearance --12th

Best performance --Winner in 1998.

First-round results --Tied Switzerland, 0-0; tied South Korea, 1-1; beat Togo, 2-0.

Second-round result --Beat Spain, 3-1.

Quarterfinal result --Beat Brazil, 1-0.

Semifinal result --Beat Portugal, 1-0.

Stars --Zinedine Zidane has been sensational in the past three games. After dominating Brazil, his penalty kick was the only goal in the semifinal. He set up Thierry Henry's goal against Brazil with a perfect free kick and looked like the Zizou of old with dazzling speed and footwork, and impeccable ball control. Patrick Vieira scored the winning goal against Spain and has sparked an offense that was dormant early on. Goalkeeper Fabien Barthez has not been beaten since the second game of the opening round.

Outlook --Some thought France peaked in the stunning upset against Brazil, and the French weren't nearly as good against Portugal. But this is a savvy squad with the kind of leadership to win another title. Zidane gets everything moving forward and his skillful footwork often opens lanes for others. Henry is the most dangerous finisher, even though he's been off-target quite often. But he has three goals in the tournament. France's defense has been almost as miserly as Italy's. It won't allow a great number of chances, either.

[ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Italy vs. France

A head-to-head look at the countries that will face off for the World Cup championship today.

Italy France

World Cup titles 1934, '38, '82 1998

Head-to-head Cup wins 2 2

Cheeses Parmesan Roquefort

Artists da Vinci, Renoir,

Michelangelo Matisse

Architecture Colosseum Eiffel Tower

Films Fellini Truffaut

Design Ferragamo Chanel

Sports Bocce Petanque

Writers Dante Camus

Pope's residence Vatican Avignon (1309-1377)

Wine Piedmont Bordeaux

Museums Uffizi Gallery Louvre

Aperitifs Sambuca, Cognac,

Campari Armagnac

Autos Ferrari Citroen

Singers Caruso Piaf

Tires Pirelli Michelin

[LOS ANGELES TIMES]

WORLD CUP FINAL

Matchup / / France vs. Italy

When / / Today, 2 p.m.

TV / / Chs. 2, 7

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