C. Ronaldo’s English Nightmare

Cristiano Ronaldo has had it rough with English fans since the end of the World Cup. The portuguese sports daily Record reports that Ronaldo continues to receive numerous death threats by phone and mail and that his home in Manchester has been vandalized on several occasions. Not even Ronaldo’s twelve year old niece escaped the inquisition as she was assaulted by English classmates when they discovered her relation to the portuguese international. In an effort to protect his family, Ronaldo has insisted that they remain in Portugal when he returns to England.

This is a sad episode in English football. In my opinion, the situation has been made worse by Manchester United’s failure to defend their star player. It’s clear that, up to now, they have not done enough. It’s fine to insist that Ronaldo is an integral part of the team and not for sale, but what’s really needed is for the club to speak for him in the English media. They should defend his cause not only because he represents an enourmous financial opportunity but also because this entire episode is sick and terribly unfair. He’s a 21 year old kid people. Just imagine if someone did this to your nephew or son?

Ronaldo’s worst critics think he’s getting what he deserves, but the pitiful response from his supporters is what I find most troubling. In a recent interview, Jose Mourinho urged him take it on the chin and move on, suggesting that this type of behaviour was part of the English game. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess. In English football diving is the great sin, while outright hooliganism and violence as part of a very public terror campaign against an athlete is normal.

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Zidane and Materazzi given fine and ban

Former France captain Zinedine Zidane and Italy defender Marco Materazzi were both fined and banned by FIFA on Thursday after the head-butting incident that marred the World Cup final.
Zidane, who has retired as a player, was fined 7,500 Swiss francs (3,260 pounds) and handed a three-match ban by FIFA's five-man disciplinary committee following his red card for head-butting Materazzi in Berlin on July 9.
As he is no longer a player, he offered to undertake three days of community service on FIFA's behalf as part of their humanitarian activities, which the committee accepted.

The Italian defender, who admitted insulting Zidane, provoking the Frenchman's head-butt, was handed a two-match ban and fined 5,000 Swiss francs. He attended a hearing last Friday, but his sentence has been fiercely criticised in Italy.
The bans apply to international competitive matches, even though it is a symbolic ban for Zidane who has confirmed he has no intention of reversing his decision to retire.
Materazzi will miss Italy's opening two Euro 2008 qualifiers against Lithuania on September 2 and, ironically, France on September 6.

"In their statements, both players stressed that Materazzi's comments had been defamatory but not of a racist nature," a FIFA statement said.
"During the course of their hearings both players also apologised to FIFA for their inappropriate behaviour and expressed their regret at the incident."
FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren told around 50 reporters at FIFA's headquarters: "Both players have a congruent separate account of what was said. The words will remain private, but they were of an insulting nature, not a racist nature."
Paolo Maldini, captain of AC Milan and former captain of Italy's national team said FIFA's ruling was scandalous.
"It's scandalous to suspend a player for having said something. It's the first time it's been done and it's only because Materazzi is Italian and because they wanted to justify the action of a great champion (Zidane) but who was in the wrong."

Maurizio Lupi, a deputy of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, also condemned the ruling.
"It's a disgraceful sentence that shows yet again how Italy's football federation carries no weight at FIFA."
French Football Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes, on the other hand, said he was satisfied with the verdict.
"It is intelligent, measured and reasonable. It shows knowledge of the world of football...The provoker of the incident has been punished," he told a news conference.
"It's a penalty that hits the one who, in my opinion was responsible. Zidane wasn't the guilty one. You have to keep control but the responsible one is the one who provokes, the one who decides to destabilise a player by means other than sporting means."

Zidane head-butted Materazzi in the chest in the 110th minute of the final and was sent off by Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo.
There was considerable debate immediately after the incident whether the referee had seen it or not, or whether Elizondo only acted after the fourth official had seen the incident on a TV replay which is against FIFA's regulations.
Several minutes elapsed before Elizondo dealt with the matter and he did so only after Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon drew the assistant referee's attention to what had happened.
FIFA said the incident had been "directly observed" by the fourth official Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain) from his position at the side of the pitch without the use of a monitor.
In their statement FIFA said that Cantalejo informed the referee and his assistants through the communications system.

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Coach's Fate

Lippi quits as Italy coach

Italy's FIFA World Cup™-winning coach Marcello Lippi has resigned, a press officer for the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said on Wednesday.
The 58-year-old Lippi led the Azzurri to their first FIFA World Cup title since 1982 on Sunday when they beat France on penalties in the final in Berlin.
Lippi took over from Giovanni Trapattoni in July 2004 after Italy's disappointing exit in the group stages of UEFA EURO 2004. In two years under Lippi's guidance, Italy lost only twice - a 2-0 defeat on his debut against Iceland and a 1-0 loss to Slovenia, both in 2004.

Domenech to remain France coach
Raymond Domenech will stay on as coach after leading France to the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ final, the French Football Federation (FFF) said on Tuesday.
Domenech, who took over from Jacques Santini after UEFA EURO 2004, was offered an extension to his two-year contract and he accepted it, the FFF said on their website.
"Taking into account the excellent performance of France during the World Cup, the federal committee unanimously offered Raymond Domenech the chance to carry on his mission as national coach," a statement said.
The contract details of the extension will be discussed between federation chairman Jean-Pierre Escalettes and Domenech before the next meeting of the FFF's board.
France lost the FIFA World Cup final on penalties to Italy. They play a friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo on 16 August.
They will start their qualifying campaign for the UEFA EURO 2008 championship with a game in Georgia on 2 September before they host the Italians at the Stade de France four days later.
Domenech, 54, wore the colours of Olympique Lyon, Strasbourg, Paris St Germain, Bordeaux and Mulhouse as a player between 1970 and 1988.
He helped Strasbourg to the league title in 1979 and Bordeaux in 1984, and won the French Cup with Lyon in 1973.
Considered a tough defender, he earned eight caps for France.
Domenech began coaching the France U21 squad in 1993 and led the team to the final of the UEFA EURO 2002 championship in Switzerland.
He took over from Santini after France's failure at the UEFA EURO 2004 championship in Portugal and helped the 1998 world champions finish top of their group and qualify directly for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Klinsmann steps down as Germany coach

Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who led his young team to a surprise third-place finish at the FIFA World Cup™, has decided not to extend his contract, which expired at the end of the tournament.
A German soccer federation (DFB) official confirmed local media reports that Klinsmann would step aside and that a news conference was planned for later on Wednesday. "The reports are not incorrect," the official told Reuters.
Klinsmann, who lives in southern California, had been urged to stay on after Germany beat Portugal in the third place match on Saturday, but he said he needed to consult with his family before making a decision.
All 23 players in Germany's squad, 93 per cent of the public, according to opinion polls, and even some of his harshest critics had said they wanted him to continue.
Earlier, newspapers Bild and Sueddeutsche Zeitung and German sports news agency SID reported that the former Germany striker, who won the FIFA World Cup as a player in 1990, had decided to step down.
A news conference will take place in Frankfurt at 0930 GMT, with media reports saying assistant coach Joachim Low will be offered the job.
Germany have a friendly against Sweden on 16 August before their 2008 UEFA European Championship qualifying campaign starts in September. DFB co-president Theo Zwanziger has said a decision must be made before the match with the Swedes.
Klinsmann has dismissed reports he received a lucrative offer to coach the United States and has said he is not interested in managing another national team such as England or Italy.

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The award winners of Germany 2006

At the FIFA World Cup™, the greatest, most-coveted prize is, was and always shall be the Trophy itself. However, every edition of the game’s global showpiece has its heroes in the shape of players and teams whose contributions cry out for some sort of recognition.
After all, some of the most indelible images in the tournament’s history have been provided by the likes of Eusebio, Johan Cruyff and 'Toto' Schillaci, none of whom were ever able to lay their hands on a winner’s medal, and many of the teams who thrilled us over the years won little other than the football public's affection.

This was also true at Germany 2006. The array of awards reflected that it was players such as Lukas Podolski and Zinedine Zidane who captured the imagination and that, while Spain and Brazil left without the Trophy, they returned home with plenty of new friends.

adidas Golden Ball : Zinedine ZIDANE (FRA)

Arguably the greatest trophy available to an individual footballer went to one of the game’s most spectacular players of the past decade. Fabio Cannavaro and Andrea Pirlo, Silver and Bronze Ball winners respectively, certainly ran him close, but despite that Final red card, Zidane undoubtedly provided some of Germany 2006’s most memorable moments, and the accredited media at the FIFA World Cup Final recognised this in their voting.

adidas Golden Shoe : Miroslav KLOSE (GER)

His winning tally might have been the lowest since Chile 1962, but Klose undoubtedly deserved this award having finished two clear of Hernan Crespo, Ronaldo and Thierry Henry with a tally of five goals that saw him move into third place in the list of top German goalscorers at FIFA World Cup finals.

The Most Entertaining Team presented by Yahoo! : PORTUGAL

The winners of this particular award were decided upon by FIFAworldcup.com's users, who declared that Luiz Felipe Scolari's Portugal had set their pulses racing more than any other team.

Gillette Best Young Player : Lukas PODOLSKI (GER)

Emerging at the head of a 40-strong field of candidates, Lukas Podolski was named the inaugural Gillette Best Young Player by FIFA’s TSG after scoring three goals and contributing boundless energy to Germany’s enthralling FIFA World Cup campaign. “This is a big motivation for myself to keep on improving in my career and to play a even better World Cup in four years' time,” said the 21-year-old after collecting his award.

Lev Yashin Award : Gianluigi BUFFON (ITA)

No surprises here. Gianluigi Buffon produced as close to a perfect tournament as can be humanly possible, conceding just twice during Italy’s triumphant campaign, once from a Christian Zaccardo own goal and then from Zidane’s audacious penalty in the Final. The FIFA TSG members were responsible for this decision, and so faultless was Buffon throughout the tournament that it cannot have taken them long to arrive at it.

FIFA Fair Play award :BRAZIL & SPAIN

They might have seen their hopes of lifting the Trophy dashed at a premature stage, but Brazil and Spain did not return home empty-handed, with each of their players picking up medals for their record of sportsmanship and good conduct during Germany 2006. This particular award is decided using a points system established by the FIFA Committee for Ethics and Fair Play, and the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG) named Carlos Alberto Parreira and Luis Aragones's sides as joint-winners after they picked up a shared total of 886 from the 1,000 available.

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Italy hold their nerve to claim fourth crown

Fabio Cannavaro, a player who has belied his diminutive stature with some giant performances this past month, fittingly closed the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ by holding the biggest prize in football aloft. Fireworks proclaiming a fourth FIFA World Cup for Italy exploded into the black skies above the Olympiastadion as the Azzurri party began, leaving France – and a disconsolate Zinedine Zidane – to their own thoughts.
What an occasion the 18th Final produced with excitement at the start and incredible drama at the end as Zidane, on his farewell to the game he has dignified for so long with his graceful skill, was shown the red card. On it went to a penalty showdown and five unerring Italian spot-kicks delivered them the title of world champions, with David Trezeguet the luckless player to miss. With Fabio Grosso converting, his country edged one Trophy behind Brazil in the pantheon of FIFA World Cup winners.

Zidane will remember this night for as long as he lives. France had promised to repeat their success of 1998 for their retiring captain and only he will know what possessed him when he thrust his forehead into the chest of Marco Materazzi. Zidane had to go, accompanied down the tunnel by the glare of thousands and thousands of flash bulbs and the tears of the legions of French supporters.
“Allez les Blues” they had chorused again and again. The Blues came through all right but it was the blue of Italy that held sway. France were wearing white but what colour they added to the occasion with their stirring comeback after Marcello Lippi’s side had threatened to put a stranglehold on the game.

Moment of the Day:

Mauro Camoranesi consoles David Trezeguet

There was irony in the failure of Trezeguet whose penalty – France's second - crashed against the crossbar and refused to cross the line. It was Trezeguet who struck the Golden Goal when the sides met in the final of UEFA EURO 2000 and left a scar that Italy had waited six long years to heal.

Trezeguet's pain now mirrored that of the famed Italians, Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio, who had missed in 1994 and handed the FIFA World Cup to Brazil in the first, and hitherto only, penalty shoot-out in the Final. At the end his Juventus team-mate Mauro Camoranesi went to him and hugged him in sympathy.
What a start we had with Thierry Henry’s first touch resulting in a heavy collision with Cannavaro. As he lay prostrate France wondered if their hopes were about to be stilled as well. The stretcher was called but their three-goal marksman was able to continue.
Henry’s next involvement was to head on Fabien Barthez’s long kick, prompting Florent Malouda to accelerate into the heart of the Italian rearguard where Materazzi brought him down. Zidane’s seventh-minute penalty was nonchalant, a featherweight chip coming down off the underside bar and only just over the line.
At a stroke Zidane joined the list of players to have scored in more than one FIFA World Cup Final - a list that also includes Pele, Vava and Paul Breitner.

Player of the Day:

Andrea Pirlo - such cultured skills emanating from midfield

It caused barely a ripple in Italy’s assured stride. Their passes were sticking, their tackles hitting home. Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso had established command of midfield while down the right Gianluca Zambrotta and Camoranesi combined impressively.
It was Camoranesi’s persistence and tight control near the touchline that forced the corner that yielded the 19th-minute equaliser. Pirlo’s delivery was inch-perfect and Materazzi powered his header home.
Just at that moment the sun had reappeared from behind a cloud to throw light on Italy’s spirited recovery and stoke up the temperatures inside the arena. Henry began to emerge as a key performer, seemingly impossible to shrug off the ball, and that also brought the best out of the dynamic newcomer Frank Ribery.
France came close on several occasions and in extra time Zidane would have scored with a header had Buffon not denied him. The night was soon to take an even more devastating turn for Zizou, a moment of madness ensuring that his retirement began at least nine minutes earlier than it should have done.

Goal of the Day:

Fabio Grosso - such coolness under pressure
Trezeguet’s miss meant that as Grosso stepped up for the long walk from the half-way line the world was in his hands. A no-nonsense left-foot strike into the right-hand corner of the net underlined the contribution the Palermo defender has made to the Italian cause this past month. After a gap of 24 years they were world champions once more.

Marcello LIPPI (ITA):

The further we progressed in this tournament, the more we realised we could win it. Our confidence grew from match to match, especially when we beat Germany in a stadium that couldn't have been more perfect for them.
It was a special game, starting with that penalty, then an equaliser and a general drop in tension. We always had hope, even though we were up against great players. We stayed cool, and I would also like to thank the Italian supporters for their support. I'm a fan of (Zinedine) Zidane, but the fourth official saw what happened. It's bizarre to end your career like that, if it is the end of his career.
I knew if we scored our first penalty, we could score them all. Life hands you gifts sometimes and that's how I think of (Fabio) Cannavaro, the best defender in the world, and (Gianluigi) Buffon, who caused (David) Trezeguet to miss his spot-kick. But I was sure we were going to win because the players were very motivated by the idea of taking penalties.
(Francesco) Totti was feeling the effects of playing 120 minutes against Germany and perhaps he didn't recover in time. Now we'll enjoy this fantastic moment and later on we'll find out what's going to happen in the Italian championship. How do I feel right now? I'm a world champion and I've never experienced that before.


It's a huge disappointment. We prepared ourselves to be at our best, the team got stronger and that was all part of the plan. You could see that in how we were a notch above our opponents in extra time. The players now have to remember what they've achieved.
Zidane's red card was one of the turning-points of the match, as was Vieira coming off (with an injury). We found ourselves with ten men at a time when we were controlling the game. As for the incident itself, the fourth official saw what happened and informed the referee. The assistant referee saw nothing. I don't know what (Marco) Materazzi said, but he's the Man of the Match, not (Andrea) Pirlo. It's Materazzi who equalised and provoked Zidane's sending-off. It's sad, but I think the Italian player made a meal out of what happened.
Zidane would normally take one of the first penalties in a shoot-out but his not being there didn't change much. I can't fault the players, they did their best. Was it enough? No. All I can think about now is the disappointment. My own future is not important at the moment. I'm sad for Zidane because he was always there for us during this competition. I'd have preferred substituting him five minutes before the end so he could have received a different ovation from the crowd to the one he got.

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Last gasp Italy through to final

Last gasp Italy through to final of Worldcup
Two goals in the closing minutes of injury time sent Italy through to the World Cup final, after a thrilling encounter with Germany in Dortmund.
The win was fully deserved as Marcello Lippi's team took the game to the hosts from the off, and only an inspired performance from Jens Lehmann kept Germany in the game.
The dream is over for Jurgen Klinsmann's Germany team, but they can be proud of their efforts over the course of the last four weeks. Even in this enthralling semi-final encounter they gave their all and restored a lot of credibility to their battered reputation.
For Italy, a team whose campaign looked at one point like it might be overshadowed by the corruption scandal sweeping through their national game, this match was a reminder of certain core Italian values. Their defensive security in this tournament has been peerless, but in Dortmund they allied this to a ferocious work rate and not a little flair - a combination that ultimately proved too much for Germany.
Lippi's side will now face the winners of the Portugal-France encounter in Sunday's final, and on the evidence of a wonderfully vibrant display against the hosts, they will approach that match with great confidence.
Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann sprung a surprise before kick-off by dropping Bastian Schweinsteiger and bringing in Sebastian Kehl. Tim Borowski came in for Torsten Frings who was suspended.
Italy welcomed Marco Materazzi for Andrea Barzagli after the Inter man's one-match suspension following a red card against Australia.
The best opportunity in the early stages fell to Perrotta who was put through on goal by delightful pass from Totti. However, the midfielder's first touch betrayed him allowing German keeper Lehmann to snuffle out the chance.
Totti was involved again shortly afterwards when he received a neatly-worked free-kick just inside the area, but his finishing let him down and his scuffed shot was blocked. Italy were on top and Luca Toni was the next to be denied after good work from Grosso.

At the other end Schneider should have done better when he was set up by Klose but with only Buffon to beat the winger blazed over. It was the best opportunity of the half and one of the few occasions that Germany had managed to stretch the watertight Italian defence.

It turning out to be an entertaining semi-final, and the referee was doing his best to let the game flow, frequently waving play on when players threw themselves to the ground. His approach did not endear him to the huge majority of the crowd, who felt that Italy were chief beneficiaries of his liberal style.

Shortly after the interval, Buffon showed why he is regarded by many as the best goalkeeper in the world, when he dived bravely at the feet of Klose to deny the striker at point blank range. Just after the hour mark, the Juventus stopper had to be alert to block Podolski's effort and when the ball fell to Friedrich the full-back could only blast his effort over the bar.

As the game progressed and tiredness became a factor, the chances were hard to come by. There was no shortage of effort and although there were no goals in normal time it was not for a lack of adventure on the part of both teams.

Gilardino almost broke the deadlock in the first minute of extra-time when he broke down the right, cut inside Ballack, but his left foot shot hit the post and rolled agonisingly across the line. Moments later Zambrotta struck a firm shot against the bar as Italy looked to ensure that the game was settled without recourse to the lottery of penalties.

At the end of the first period of extra-time Podolski had a wonderful chance to put Germany ahead when eluded his marker to meet Odonkor's cross, but his header flashed wide. In a frantic finale, Lehman was again Germany's saviour when he saved from del Piero from close range.

The ball was swept to the other end where Podolski brought an acrobatic save from Buffon. In the closing minutes del Piero's shot flashed past the post from the edge of the area, as Italy pressed for a winner. It was end-to-end stuff and before long the ball was swept forward to Odonkor but he sliced his effort wide.

Pirlo was then denied by a fine save from Lehman and from the resulting corner the Milan midfielder threaded a clever pass through to Grosso who produced a wonderful curling effort to finally beat the valiant Leman. The winner in stoppage time was the icing on the cake. With Germany pushing forward for an equaliser, Italy broke through Gilardino who fed del Piero on the overlap and the Juventus striker produced the sweetest of finishes to send Italy through to the final.

Coaches' Quotes:


We’re obviously very, very disappointed, no question about it, and that is to be expected when there is so much emotion involved and when it turns out that a dream has died. It really hurts when the other side delivers a knockout punch right before the final whistle – that takes some coming to terms with. Even we coaches need a moment to get over it. But I told the team straight after the match that they can be proud of themselves, that they've done so much and that they always pushed themselves to their limits. We showed that we can compete with the best teams in the world. We almost managed to score, and both teams had their chances, but we came up against an opponent who realised just before the end how to make the most of their opportunities and put the match out of our reach.
Congratulations to Italy and to Marcello Lippi. All the best to them for the Final. What we now want to do is give a fantastic performance for our fans in the match for third place and play some good football. In any case, the tournament has already been a real success for us and we can feel very proud of ourselves. There are players in the squad who have incredible potential and who are getting noticed on an international level. In a short space of time, they have made incredible progress. We can look to the future with a lot of optimism, and many of our squad have made a name for themselves on the international scene during the tournament.

Marcello LIPPI (ITA)

It would have been unfair if we hadn't won or if it had gone to penalties. Our game was on a higher level to Germany's tonight – we hit the post and the bar, and we had the better of the play. The hosts can have no complaints. We are incredibly happy to have played here in Germany and won despite the fact that there were 60,000 supporters against us. That shows the true character of my team. They played with a lot of confidence and kept possession very well. I’m extremely satisfied and am sure that all Italian fans will be just as pleased today.
It was clear that the end of the extra time would be decisive, which is why I brought on another attacker. As the game wore on, our quality began to shine through more and more, but nevertheless, we would still have been ready for penalties. We had a lot more of the possession overall and that gave us a certain confidence, even if we didn't manage to create that many chances. I’m pleased that Alessandro Del Piero was one of the players who helped to turn the match in our favour. That's not the end of it, though. Now we have to see who we will play in the Final, but we'll take whoever comes – we don't have any preferences.

Players' Quotes:

Andrea PIRLO (ITA), Man of the Match:

It was a fantastic game, absolutely overflowing with emotions. It was a childhood dream for me to play in a semi-final. I think that we earned our win today. We created a lot of chances, and we also definitely had the luck we needed.

Miroslav KLOSE (GER)

We are obviously incredibly disappointed. It was an even contest and both teams had their chances. Well done to the Italians. They were clever on the break and scored two lovely goals. We can still be proud of what we have achieved.

Gianluigi BUFFON (ITA)

We wanted to reach the Final and we’ve done it. (Marcello) Lippi made sure we were really up for it. I thank my team-mates for having scored two wonderful goals. I started to think about penalties from the beginning of the second half. All our wins are down to team spirit. They say Italy reach the Final every 12 years, and we’ve done it this time as well. Now we hope to go on and win.


We were just two minutes away from penalties. We created the better chances over the course of the match, and in the second half, we had three absolutely clear-cut chances. I'm not making any accusations or complaints, though. That's just the way football is.

Alessandro DEL PIERO (ITA)

You could all see how happy I was when I scored. We were desperate to win. The quality of this team lies in the strength of the squad. I’m not thinking about Sunday yet, I’m going to enjoy this moment and reflect on what we’ve done up to now. The job isn’t finished yet though.

Philippe LAHM (GER)

I don't think that we played worse than Italy today. It's a bitter pill for us to swallow. We concentrated on one thing and kept our focus right until the end, except for that one attack of theirs. We definitely want to win the Third Place match though.


We’re happy, it’s what we wanted and it’s a great feeling knowing we’re in the Final. They put us under pressure but we also created lots of chances. At the end of the day, we’re a great team and deserved to win.


We played a great game even though they did put us under lots of pressure. Our team spirit brought us victory. To win in front of such a partisan crowd is something to tell your grandchildren about. We’ll concentrate on the Final now. We want to win it!


We ended up being punished right at the death. It's really disappointing, because we only made that one mistake. I've no doubt that it'll be tough to pick ourselves up again now, but it was great, the way the crowd still cheered us on when we went one down. I don't know, it's difficult to say whether we can really be proud of ourselves.


We could have won today. Of course we knew that Italy would be even tougher than the teams we'd played before, but I still think that we did what we set out to do. We weren't looking beyond this match.

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World Cup preview - Germany v Italy

World Cup preview - Germany v Italy
Germany face Italy in Tuesday's semi-final of 2006 Worldcup, with the hosts looking to avenge the 4-1 drubbing they were given by the Italians in a friendly international in March.
Jurgen Klinsmann's side came into this tournament on the back of a series of unconvincing performances, but they have been unrecognizable since the World Cup kicked off on June 9.
Their quarter-final win over Argentina provided the ultimate proof that Klinsmann's team were genuine contenders and their form has undergone such a transformation that they go into tonight's encounter as favourites to reach Sunday's final.

Following that friendly defeat in March and there were calls for Klinsmann's to stand down, but the coach was always confident his side would perform once the tournament got underway.

"You are always going to get hammered when you lose 4-1," Klinsmann admitted.

"But friendlies are not that important and I always believed we could make it happen and go far in this tournament."

Klinsmann believes his side's record at Dortmund's Westfalenstadion could prove crucial tonight. The World Cup hosts have won 13 and drawn one game 13 from 14 matches, played at the ground.

"It's good to know we'll be playing there,” said Klinsmann.

"There is nothing like the atmosphere in Dortmund. It is like a volcano which will hopefully erupt.

“I feel proud of our team, and how they have done in this tournament.

"But we also know that we still have the two biggest hurdles in front of us, and we will go for it.

"Italy are one of the best teams in the world, and that's why they are in the final four.

"They deserve a lot of respect - they have a long and proud footballing history.

"But we must think about our own game - and if we play our own game in our own style, we are able to beat them.

"I believe the confidence that we have built over the last six weeks is enough to win the next two games and become world champions," Klinsmann added.

"We know we have the two biggest hurdles in front of us. But we want to go for it and hopefully make it to Sunday's final."

Defensive midfielder Torsten Frings has been suspended for his part in the brawl which followed the victory over Argentina, and will most likely be replaced by Werder Bremen team-mate Tim Borowski.

Tournament top-scorer Miroslav Klose and Michael Ballack have both overcome minor knocks and look set to start in Germany's record 11th semi-final.

Italy, after starting the competition slowly, are now looking a formidable outfit and they are unbeaten in their last 23, dating back to October 2004.

Italy have conceded just one goal in the tournament against USA, and that was an own goal, and coasted through to the last four with a comfortable 3-0 win over Ukraine.

They will again be without defensive lynchpin Alessandro Nesta who has not receovered from a groin injury, so Marco Materazzi, suspended for the Ukraine victory, is likely to return alongside Fabio Cannavaro in the centre of defence, as Andre Barzagli steps down.

Mauro Camoranesi has recovered from a knee problem and is available for selection.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi does not expect Germany to be significantly weakened by the absence of Torsten Frings in the World Cup semi-final.

Frings will serve a one-match ban for punching Argentina forward Julio Cruz in the melee that followed the hosts quarter-final win over Argentina.

"I think teams in a semi-final have certain quality and organisation. So they don't suffer when they don't have one player available," he said.

"We have had to do without several players during this tournament.

"Frings is an important player but I don't think it will affect Germany's play or their determination." Italy are not expecting a repeat of their 4-1 thrashing of Germany in Dortmund.

"It will be a completely different game," defender Gianluca Zambrotta said.

"That was a friendly played in the middle of the league season. Now everyone's focusing only on the World Cup."

After that defeat in March in Florence, Jurgen Klinsmann's reputation plummeted. Now his team is two wins away from what would be its fourth World Cup title.

"I said then and I'll say it again now. That score does not reflect the German team's gap with Italy and it doesn't reflect that Italy is that much better than Germany," Italy coach Marcello Lippi said.

Probable teams:


Lehmann, Friedrich, Metzelder, Mertesacker, Lahm, Schneider, Borowski, Ballack, Schweinsteiger, Podolski, Klose


Buffon, Zambrotta, Materazzi, Cannavaro, Grosso, Perrotta, Pirlo, Gattuso, Totti, Toni, Gilardino


Benito Archundia (Mexico)

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