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Italy and France, Rivals with the Same Goal
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Italy and France, Rivals with the Same Goal

Italy and France, Rivals with the Same Goal

Italy and France, Rivals with the Same Goal
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5543051/5543052" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The 2006 World Cup will go to Italy or France. But which of the European football powers will prevail in Sunday's title match? Financial Times soccer columnist Peter Chapman offers his insights to Scott Simon.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

As Donald Rumsfeld might put it, an old Europe shootout Sunday in Berlin. France and Italy meet in the World Cup final after a month-long tournament of low-scoring surprises.

Italy advanced to the finals after scoring two goals in the final two minutes on an exhausted German team, and France's Zinédine Zidane made the lone goal on a penalty against Portugal to move them into the finals.

Peter Chapman joins us now. He's a sports editor at the financialtimes.com and a regular football columnist who joins us from London. Peter, thanks very much for being with us.

PETER CHAPMAN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Try and be a good chap and say soccer just for us. Can you try to do that please?

CHAPMAN: I will do.

SIMON: How do you see this match-up between two veteran teams?

CHAPMAN: Well, it could be an absolute cracker, as we say over here. Because what we see is the unusual phenomenon of a very good attacking Italian team. Italian teams, despite the stereotypes of Italian culture and life - you know, generally speaking, free and easy and expressive and romantic with lots of fantasy...

SIMON: Not to mention the Italian army in a constant state of retreat.

CHAPMAN: On the trough. But the Italian football teams tend to have this reputation of being extremely defensive. They invented a form back in the '60s called catanacho(ph), which I think vaguely translates as a kind of bolt that you would draw across a stable door, the analogy being with soccer that the purpose of the game is to keep the other side out.

Now, what we've seen in this competition is a very expressive, a very good attacking Italian team, also, however, with a good defense. The age is on the other side with France.

Now, what we did see is a very slow start from the French in this competition, but an absolute spectacular game against Brazil. Low scoring, as you pointed out in your introduction, but a spectacular game. It could be a cracker, but the Italians at the moment, I think, slightly favorite.

SIMON: Let me ask you about what I know has been a big story there. Cristiano Ronaldo, playing for Portugal last week, argued for a card against England's famous striker, Wayne Rooney. Now those guys are teammates on Manchester United.

CHAPMAN: Yes indeed.

SIMON: Is Ronaldo - obviously one of the better players on Manchester United, as is Mr. Rooney - how do they patch this up together again? I mean, does Ronaldo have to worry about getting off the plane in Manchester now?

CHAPMAN: His first day's arrival for preseason training at Manchester United's training ground could be a tricky one. 'Cause Rooney, Wayne Rooney - young chap, but nonetheless - did at one stage in his earlier life fancy himself as an amateur boxer.

Cristiano Ronaldo - or if you look at the faces of the two, there is Ronaldo, quite a beautiful boy in his Portuguese and his Latin style. Extremely elegant, both as a player and as an appearance. Wayne Rooney, you wouldn't call him that. He has a very good face for, as it were, soccer on the radio. He was a bruiser, and everybody speculating about what's going to happen.

They, or rather, Rooney has said that there won't be any problem. Then again, there's been speculation that Real Madrid might step in and buy Ronaldo to ease the tension anyway.

SIMON: I must tell you, Peter, having watched most of and loved the games, the - some of the best acting I've seen off stage of the Royal Shakespeare Company...

CHAPMAN: Absolutely.

SIMON: ...among these World Cup players.

CHAPMAN: Yeah. You've wanted, sitting there in the crowds, to lift up your card saying, you know, sort of 8.7, 9.5...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: The Portuguese, the other day, were rolling around, like my Massachusetts mother-in-law would say, like drunken sailors.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: And any opportunity, they were down on the ground rolling, holding their heads in a kind of Richard III-like way.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: And dramatic as you say, it could be at Stratford on Avon. No. It's been a spectacular World Cup for that kind of diving. And, speaking as a Northern European, we always thought this came out of Southern Europe, you know, the extravagant ways of the south. The north managing to do it as well as anybody from the south. So it's almost become internationally acceptable now.

SIMON: Any predictions?

CHAPMAN: Italy should win. They were my tip from the beginning; only, I'll have to say, because of the political and economic problems in Italy at the moment. I thought it was a moment for the Italians to find something extra in the name of their nation.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

CHAPMAN: They're always quite - they're quite good actually when they're back's against the wall, they're feeling martyred and suffering, and then they do rather well.

SIMON: Yeah, but the French have hardly been blooming in recent - this past year, either.

CHAPMAN: No, they haven't. And naturally, a lot of us are just hoping for some - a sparkling performance from Zinedine Zidane. Thierry Henry, from my local team of Arsenal in north London, could come good. The Italians should win. I have a sneaking feeling the French might make it very difficult for them. You noticed there that I'm not putting my money on either side.

SIMON: Yes...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yes. Very artfully done. Very artfully done.

CHAPMAN: Yes, indeed.

SIMON: Peter Chapman, sports editor and football columnist at financialtimes.com, and author of the book The Goalkeepers History of Britain.

Thank you, Peter.

CHAPMAN: Thank you, Scott.

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