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Sunday, July 09, 2006

World Cup Open Thread


REUTERS/Sanjib Mukherjee (INDIA)
Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik gives finishing
touches to the sand sculptures of Italy's football player
Fabio Cannavaro (R) and France's football player
Zinedine Zidane at the Golden beach in Puri, July 8, 2006.

Well, today is the day. Target for today, Berlin.

Gentlemen, and ladies, I will see you at the TV. Good luck Azzuri, good luck Les Bleus.

FINALISSIMA PREVIEW: Italy-France
Categories: France, Italy

This is it! The grand final — Italy and France for the world championship. Come back to this blog entry about an hour before kickoff (set for 2 p.m. New York time), and pick up our live coverage of the biggest event on the planet. In the meantime, here’s more grist for your mills.

As if playing in the World Cup final wasn’t pressure enough, both teams have some big issues to put out of mind today.

For the Italians, there’s the shadow of the Serie A corruption scandal, possible court appearances and the impending punitive demotion of Juventus (for which five Azzurri and three Bleus play) and perhaps a couple of other clubs. There is also their former Italy teammate Gianluca Pessotto, who was seriously injured when he fell from the Juventus headquarters building two weeks ago.

For France, there’s the spectre of Jean Marie Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right-wing National Front and candidate for the presidency, who complained that the French national team, with its 16 nonwhite players, didn’t resemble French society as a whole. “Perhaps the coach exaggerated the proportion of colored players,” he told L’Equipe. “The French don’t feel totally represented, which explains why the crowds are not as supportive as eight years ago.” You’d think Le Pen would’ve learned from shooting his mouth off in 1998, but apparently not. The crowds at home are as supportive as they’ve ever been — but while France ‘98 was a love-in for the idea of a multicultural France, this time around the meaning of the national team’s success is a little more complicated, with last year’s riots in the banlieues still fresh in memory. There’s an excellent report on this subject from the Paris suburbs by Jason Burke in today’s Observer.

But here it’s worth repeating the always eloquent Lilian Thuram’s response to Le Pen. Thuram is a member of the government’s High Council for Integration and the activist group Burden of Memory. At a press conference, he told reporters:

What can I say about Monsieur Le Pen? Clearly, he is unaware that there are Frenchmen who are black, Frenchmen who are white, Frenchmen who are brown. I think that reflects particularly badly on a man who has aspirations to be president of France but yet clearly doesn’t know anything about French history or society.

That’s pretty serious. He’s the type of person who’d turn on the television and see the American basketball team and wonder: “Hold on, there are black people playing for America? What’s going on?”

When we take to the field, we do so as Frenchmen. All of us. When people were celebrating our win, they were celebrating us as Frenchmen, not black men or white men. It doesn’t matter if we’re black or not, because we’re French. I’ve just got one thing to say to Jean Marie Le Pen. The French team are all very, very proud to be French. If he’s got a problem with us, that’s down to him but we are proud to represent this country. So Vive la France, but the true France. Not the France that he wants.

But on to more pressing concerns than mere race and politics. Like, are both teams healthy? Italy are, except for defender Alessandro Nesta, who will miss this game with a groin injury. The poor guy missed the 1998 quarterfinal against France in which Italy were eliminated, and the 2002 octavofinal against Korea in which Italy were eliminated. A pattern? His place will be taken today by Marco Materazzi, who has filled in for him since Nesta went down in the game against the Czech Republic.

France will be without forward Louis Saha, who picked up two yellow cards during two brief appearances as a substitute.

Now to the projected lineups, which we’ll be able to confirm or emend about 40 minutes before game time.

For Marcello Lippi’s Azzurri, look for a 4-4-1-1:

GK BUFFON Gianluigi
LD GROSSO Fabio
CD MATERAZZI Marco
CD CANNAVARO Fabio
RD ZAMBROTTA Gianluca
RM CAMORANESI Mauro
CM GATTUSO Gennaro
CM PIRLO Andrea
LM PERROTTA Simone
WF TOTTI Francesco
ST TONI Luca

From their positions at left and right back, Grosso and Zambrotta will move all the way up and down the flanks to join the attack … judiciously, mind you. Up front, Totti will play as a withdrawn forward, with Toni the lone striker. One thing about Totti — a lot of people have said they’re disappointed in his play and that he hasn’t made the impact they expected. Well, the guy has a goal and has set up three others, so he’s been responsible for more tallies than anyone else on this Italy team.

For les Bleus of Raymond Domenech, keep your eye out for a 4-2-3-1:

GK BARTHEZ Fabien
LD ABIDAL Eric
CD GALLAS William
CD THURAM Lilian
RD SAGNOL Willy
HM MAKELELE Claude
HM VIEIRA Patrick
LM MALOUDA Florent
CM ZIDANE Zinedine
RM RIBERY Frank
ST HENRY Thierry

Abidal and Sagnol, the outside backs, should more or less stay put in defense rather than run up the flanks, but they will pick their spots. Makelele and Vieira will be the holding midfielders, leaving Zidane to orchestrate from the front of the midfield with Malouda and especially Ribery ranging up and down the wings. Thierry Henry is the lone striker and foul-exaggerator up front.

posted by Steve @ 4:11:00 PM

4:11:00 PM

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