World Cup Final – Italy v France
Question: Who would have thought right back at the start of the tournament that this would be the final? Answer: No–one. I have to admit I did tip Italy to make the final, but only really given the relative simplicity of the path they had to get to it. Ironically this was made even more straight forward by the virtual self destruction of Argentina and the fact that France slipped up getting out of there group. Indeed the reason hardly anyone would have predicted an Italy v France final was that it relied on one of the sides coming second in their group. Logically if you were predicting either team, but especially France, to come second in their group you weren’t going to have them reaching the final.
So now they are both there, who is going to win? I would argue that it is almost too close to call. Italy are solid, well organised, but have a chronic lack pace, especially up front. France are experienced and perhaps have more individually talented players – in Zidane and Henry they have two of players who are potentially unstoppable – however they have one or two weak links in the side and an enormous average age which could cost them. A lot will rest on the shoulders of Zidane. When he has performed France have beaten the likes of Spain and Brazil, but when he has failed to turn up they have struggled against relative minnows.
The entire French tactical set up is based around Zidane, which is a massive danger. Domenech appears to have no plan B and certainly I will be hugely surprised if Gattuso is not detailed to keep Zidane out of the game. Usually the risk in this sort of overt man marking is that it opens up space for other players to exploit, however given that the Italians (and the French for that matter) will be playing with two anchors in midfield I cannot see too many problems. Indeed if the French do the same and stick Vieira on Totti we could be in for one of the all time most boring cup finals. With their supply routes cut off, Toni and Henry will be totally isolated from the rest of their sides.
Interestingly even though both teams are lining up with 4–5–1 style formations they will subtly differ in lay out. Whereas Italy will operate more as a 4–4–1–1, with Totti behind Toni and Camoranesi and Perrota on either flank, France have a sort of 4–2–3–1 with Malouda, Ribery and Zidane at times making a front four with Henry. The weakness in the Italian side is up front where Toni has proved himself to be definitive evidence that his club Florientina are guilty of match fixing. He looks nothing like a 30+ goals striker and should be easy for Thuram and Gallas to handle. For the French, the major weakness is down the left hand side where Malouda and Abidal have looked pretty average throughout the tournament. Given that Camornesi, and especially Zambrotta are tricky players, this could be a key area in the match.