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Last Updated: Friday, 7 July 2006, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Alan Hansen's column

Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Zidane and Henry
France will need inspiration from either Zinedine Zidane or Thierry Henry to win

The prospect of Italy and France contesting the World Cup final would have been a laughing matter two games into the tournament.

And yet they meet to contest the biggest prize in football in Berlin on Sunday.

It is imperative we get a quality final because I think the latter stages of the World Cup have not lived up to the glorious entertainment of the early games.

France have confounded us all after being unbelievably poor in their first two games.

It looked like a classic case of too many players getting too long in the tooth in their games against Switzerland and South Korea, but they pulled it around superbly to reach the final.

But I saw a lot of tiredness in the last 25 minutes of their semi-final against Portugal, which may be a worrying sign for coach Raymond Domenech.

I actually felt if Portugal had got a goal they would have gone on to win, but it was not to be for Luiz Felipe Scolari's side.

Italy may have gone to extra-time against Germany, but I think the extra day's rest will work in their favour in Berlin, particularly if an additional half an hour is needed on Sunday.

If France are to win it, I think they will need inspiration from either Zinedine Zidane or Thierry Henry and they will need it inside 90 minutes.

There has not been a great team in this tournament, which is a major disappointment, but you must give credit to the two finalists.

Some of Eriksson's policies in the World Cup were exposed as folly

Every World Cup needs a vibrant Brazil. Sadly we never got it here and they certainly paid the price for trying to win the prize with a striker, namely Ronaldo, who could not run.

Argentina were probably the best team in the tournament, but their coach Jose Pekerman made a real error in taking off Juan Roman Riquelme in their quarter-final, allowing Germany back into the game.

As for England, they were a massive disappointment and it is amazing how Sven-Goran Eriksson oversaw a succession of games - not just here - where such a talented squad played so poorly.

England never produced in Germany, but there was also the debacle of the defeat to Northern Ireland and less than captivating performances against Wales, Austria and Poland.

The signs were not good, and some of Eriksson's policies in the World Cup were exposed as folly.

His ploy of playing a less-than-match-fit Wayne Rooney on his own up front was an accident waiting to happen - just crazy.

And as for taking Theo Walcott, well Eriksson hung himself by admitting he had never seen him play and yet was still taking him to the World Cup.

How can you take a 17-year-old you have never seen in action to the biggest tournament in the world?

This is not wisdom after the event, many of us said it at the time of his selection.

Fabio Cannavaro
Cannavaro is quite outstanding positionally and organises his fellow defenders superbly

It may almost have been a bad thing that Eriksson helped England to that famous 5-1 win in Germany. It made people think he was a genius and he was awarded another contract on that basis.

But every manager stands or falls by his decisions and Eriksson certainly fell in Germany.

Italy have come through the pack in classic style, grinding teams down and not giving anything away, which is exactly what they did to Germany.

And in Fabio Cannavaro, they have had a brilliant and inspirational performer. His display against Germany was probably the best individual performance at the World Cup.

He knows his job 100% and reminds me of another defensive great, Argentina's 1978 World Cup winning captain Daniel Passarella - not big of stature but huge in influence.

Cannavaro's class is demonstrated in that he keeps attackers guessing about what he is going to do rather than the other way around.

This is a priceless commodity and it is a quality defender who makes world-class strikers wonder what they are going to do next.

He can do it all, he can step in front to solve problems or he can go around the back. It is a great asset.

Cannavaro is also quite outstanding positionally and organises his fellow defenders superbly.

Italy don't have great riches up front, but they will be so difficult to beat.

Victory is everything for France and Italy - and I make the Italians slight favourites

France have also been outstanding at the back, but I think they will need a flash of genius to win this one.

I really hope it is an exciting final because the latter stages have not been as entertaining as the start.

There have been no real classic matches in the knockout stages.

I heard people talking about the semi-final between Germany and Italy as a classic, but I'm not sure I subscribe to that. I actually felt the quarter-final between Germany and Argentina had more edge-of-the-seat quality.

The desire to deliver a classic World Cup final will, of course, not matter to the two teams involved.

Victory is everything for France and Italy - and I make the Italians slight favourites, especially if tiring French players are dragged into extra time.

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Alan Hansen columns

SEE ALSO
Italy v France
05 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006
Desailly on France
07 Jul 06 |  France
Ranieri on Italy
07 Jul 06 |  Italy
Zidane in running for Golden Ball
06 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006


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