Having captained Italy to victory at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, Fabio Cannavaro will also be at the Final of the 2010 edition, though this time as a spectator. La Nazionale’s skipper is also preparing to pass the baton on to the captain of Sunday's winning team, and spent the day before the Final visiting the Apartheid Museum - a must-see for any visitor to Johannesburg - as well as unveiling the Louis Vuitton-designed box that will hold the FIFA World Cup Trophy.
Nor was he the only famous face present. Also in attendance was that tireless fighter against apartheid, key player in rebuilding South African society and one of the most important figures in his country’s history: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. And after his unforgettable tour of the museum with Archbishop Tutu, Cannavaro graciously gave time for an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
An honour and a pleasure
Clearly relaxed and in good spirits, the vastly experienced centre-back listened intently to the stories told by the legendary South African social reformist before agreeing to pose for photos with fans and sign autographs. “It feels really good to be here,” said the player, who signed for Qatari side Al Ahli just prior to South Africa 2010.
“I’m very proud and I’d like to thank Louis Vuitton and FIFA for organising this event. It’s something new and so it’s an honour to be the first person to take part. The Final will be really emotional because we’re going to hand over the Trophy that we’ve cherished for the last four years.”
The Final will be really emotional because we’re going to hand over the Trophy that we’ve cherished for the last four years.
The former Parma, Juventus and Real Madrid defender then gave his verdict on Sunday’s showpiece at the Soccer City Stadium between Spain and the Netherlands. “It’s a new final, a first, between two teams that have never won the World Cup before. Both sides go into the game in good form, they’re enjoying themselves and entertaining the fans, so I think it’s a deserved final and I hope it’s a great game of football.”
Yet despite his three-year spell in the Spanish capital, Cannavaro claimed not to be biased towards La Roja. “I’m very close to the Spanish lads because I spent a few years at Real Madrid, but let’s not forget that I also have a lot of friends in the Dutch squad. So, I don’t really know who to support. The good thing is that, whatever happens, some of my former team-mates will be happy, which will make me happy too.”
Glorious past, shaky present
And of course, Cannavaro will know exactly how the winning team feel, following his heroics on the path to Italy’s triumph on penalties over France at Berlin’s Olympiastadion. "That was a different game (to the 2010 Final) because both teams were used to reaching finals and had a lot of pedigree behind them. I can remember everything, from the first minute to the last, and I still look back with great pleasure. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it and I can’t help but get emotional every time I think about what happened four years ago.”
However, Italy’s South Africa 2010 campaign never really got going, with the four-time world champions finishing bottom of Group F behind Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. “You can’t win all the time,” said the 36-year-old. “There are always cycles in football though it’s true it was a real shame to have gone out in the first round as defending champions. We now have to start again under a new coach, because EURO 2012 qualifying is just around the corner.”
Not that Cannavaro is too worried about the future of the Italian national team, thanks to a promising generation of young players beginning to come through. “I’m hopeful that, one step at a time, we’ll move towards becoming the best team in the world again,” said the veteran centre-half as the interview concluded. “That’s because, traditionally, Italy have always been at the top of the tree.”