Four of the best for Italy
By overcoming France at Berlin's Olympiastadion on Sunday night, Marcello Lippi's Italy have become world champions of the most popular sport on the planet for the fourth time in their history. And in keeping with the greatest stories, they had to overcome adversity before claiming the most coveted prize of all.
In the very arena where Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games, Lippi guided Italy to the fourth world title in their history and - like Argentina, Germany and Brazil before them - their second since teams began competing for the FIFA World Cup Trophy in 1974.
Rome in 1934, Paris in 1938, Madrid in 1982, Berlin in 2006: four European capitals, and four times now that the Italians have displayed a footballing swagger that has captivated people from all four corners of the globe. Whether or not Italy's brand of football is the best is the subject of much conjecture. Yet, whatever its pros and cons the fact remains that when it comes to the FIFA World Cup, Italy are now the second most successful nation of all time.
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With four world titles to their name, the Azzurri have now claimed one more crown than their proud rivals Germany, whom they vanquished in the closing stages of a splendid semi-final, and more importantly are now just one behind the masterful Brazilians.
This was a victory for traditional football, for a united team driven by an absolute determination to finish the match one goal better off than the opposition, while ideally keeping a clean sheet. In his quest for FIFA World Cup glory Lippi went back to basics, placing the importance of team spirit above all other considerations, as he set out to prove that without camaraderie you achieve nothing.
Anyone who has ever been a footballer or a coach will tell you that getting every member of any squad to pull in the same direction at the same time is no easy task. It requires considerable skill and also a good deal of fortune. All the ingredients may be at your disposal but there are no set recipes or pre-arranged formulae for success. You need to be able to call on all your experience and expertise to blend these various elements together in the right way and hope that everything works out for the best.
A testimony to Lippi's man-management skills is the fact that this victory was achieved without Alessandro Nesta, a player as important to Italy as Michael Ballack is to Germany or Ronaldinho to Brazil. As with all great sides, though, when they were called on to make do without a key player, Italy's class of 2006 were up to the challenge, proving that they were greater than the sum of their constituent parts.
We should also spare a thought for Paolo Maldini, the legendary captain who missed out on the greatest triumph of all. This trophy is also his, as it is Gianluca Pessotto's and all of those Italians who have dedicated their lives to their passion for the game, from the highest echelons of Serie A all the way down to Sunday league football.