Defense rules for Cup finalists

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

BERLIN -- No Italian opponent has scored in this World Cup. France has allowed two goals overall.

Even with all the offensive flair on both sides, defense will decide the title Sunday in Olympic Stadium.

The Azzurri have been so impenetrable in six matches that only Cristian Zaccardo got the ball past outstanding goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Zaccardo plays defense for Italy.


Germany probed and pressed throughout its semifinal and went 120 minutes without ever finding the net. Indeed, the Germans had only a handful of dangerous opportunities with one of the most powerful offenses in the tournament.

Australia displayed a strong attack in the first round, then was blanked by the Italians. Ukraine, with star striker Andriy Shevchenko, didn't get on the scoresheet in the quarterfinals.

That game features textbook technique in the penalty area. Led by captain Fabio Cannavaro, the Italians block more shots than Shaq. They brilliantly volley clearances upfield, sometimes from angles that seem impossible.

Even when opponents have room to shoot, they cut it too fine and miss the net. Or Buffon catches or parries away shots.

France has no reason to fear any team after outplaying Brazil in the quarterfinals. But the French weren't quite so effective with the ball against Portugal in the semis. But there defense was perfect.

"We don't concede goals," said Thierry Henry, France's leading scorer in the tournament. "Everyone fights and fights together. "

France cleaned house, avoided early exit -- Page 2D

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