9 July: The world awaits grand finale
July 9, 2006, sees the last and most crucial chapter of this summer's showpiece tournament unfold. The 64th encounter of what has been a highly enjoyable FIFA World Cup, this Sunday's Final in Berlin is also notable for being French magician Zinedine Zidane's last appearance in a top-level match.
His Italian opponents, led by inspirational skipper Fabio Cannavaro, will be playing for a fourth world title which would take them within one of Brazil's record five FIFA World Cup triumphs. For Les Bleus, a second crown in eight years would be the perfect end to the glorious international career of their Class of 1998'.
Italy-France, 20:00, Berlin
Italy are invariably among the favourites for the FIFA World Cup and once again, the Azzurri have risen above a serious internal crisis to eliminate their powerful hosts in the semi-final. Marcello Lippi's great tactical acumen is illustrated by one statistic in particular: 11 goals, ten scorers. Against the French, the atmosphere will be tinged with a whiff of revenge, as the Nazionale have not beaten their opponents since 1978. Above all, the trauma of their UEFA EURO 2000 final defeat left a scar in Italian psyches that still cries out to be healed.
After a lukewarm start to the tournament, only the rich or the reckless would have staked a single euro on France. But all that changed with their Round of 16 contest with Spain which witnessed the reawakening of Zinedine Zidane. More than any other single factor, France have been borne to their current heights by solid defending. They may now want to offer the ultimate global gift to their departing midfield maestro, but to do so they must pick an Italian lock that is at least as tough to crack as the French strong box. That said, those who believe in omens will point to the uncanny resemblance between France's path through this tournament and their successful route at EURO 2000
Fabio Cannavaro v Lilian Thuram
While the homogenous nature of the two teams' defences is undoubtedly their strongest quality, two individuals stand out from the rest. Cannavaro and Thuram have both shown exemplary quality in the way they have nullified opposing attacks while maintaining rare discipline: in their six matches so far, Thuram has committed a mere ten fouls and Cannavaro only nine.
Old friends become rivals in Berlin
Louis Saha (FRA)
Italy 0-0 France (3-4 pens), 3 July 1998, Saint-Denis
This was a tight match from start to finish between two teams who knew each other inside out. Goalscoring opportunities were at a premium, although Roberto Baggio came within millimetres of a glorious golden goal with a textbook volley. But when the game eventually went to penalties, it was the unfortunate Luigi Di Biagio who struck the crossbar with his spot-kick to send the French into the FIFA World Cup semi-final.
Will Zidane join the Pele, Vava and Paul Breitner club? The scorer of a brace during the 1998 Final against Brazil, Zidane has an opportunity to enter into legend alongside Pele (1958 and 70), Vava (1958 and 62) and Breitner (1974 and 82) as the only players to have scored in two different FIFA World Cup Finals.
100: the number of caps Fabio Cannavaro will have won after appearing in the Final. 53: the number of players who have played in two FIFA World Cup Finals.
42: the average number of caps won by the members of the current French side.
32: the number of times France have met Italy. The Azzurri have had the clear edge over the years, winning 17, drawing eight and losing seven of these encounters.
12: the number of years separating each of Italy's last four Finals (1970, 82, 94 and 2006).
7: the number of all-European FIFA World Cup Finals staged on European soil.
Gianluca Vialli is 42 this 9 July. The former Sampdoria and Italy striker played at the 1990 FIFA World Cup in his homeland, where his team went out in the semi-final against Argentina. Koji Nakata (27, JPN), Lee Chun-Soo (25, KOR), Cho Jae-Jin (25, KOR) also celebrate their birthdays.
A FIFA World Cup blast from the past
9 July 1950, Brazil 7-1 Sweden, Rio de Janeiro
Brazil were the big favourites for 'their' FIFA World Cup, and the Auriverdes started the second round in spectacular fashion by reaching seventh heaven against Sweden at the Maracana. Their star turn on the day was Ademir, who plundered four goals, but the Brazilians eventually slipped up at the final hurdle against old foes Uruguay.
Not a lot of people know this
Gianluigi Buffon will have added motivation to keep Les Bleus at bay on Sunday. If the Juventus shotstopper successfully protects his goal for at least 64 minutes, he will break the national record set at Italia 90 by Walter Zenga, who went 517 FIFA World Cup minutes without being beaten.
Having a laugh
"After the semi-final Del Piero said I'd become his lucky mascot so I've got to go to the Final and wear the exact same clothes and underwear and socks to bring him good luck," revealed Noel Gallagher , a massive fan of the Italians, in a FIFAworldcup.com VIP column.