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Facing Italy adds gloss to final, says France coach

Written by: Staff

HAMELIN, Germany, July 6 (Reuters) France coach Raymond Domenech said meeting Italy in the World Cup final made the occasion extra special.

''I'm excited because we're playing the final and because we're facing Italy there,'' Domenech told a news conference today, three days before Sunday's showdown between the two neighbours in Berlin.

''I have always admired Italy for their talent, their tactics, their mental strength and their fighting spirit,'' he added.

Referred to as the Brazilians of Europe for their flair when Michel Platini was their inspiration in the 1980s, France have since turned to Italy as an example.

It was a defensive, tactical approach that guided France in their triumphant 1998 campaign and on their way to the final here.

''They're a permanent model,'' Domenech said of the Azzurri.

''Their (2-0) victory over Germany in the semi-finals was a remarkable sporting achievement.'' Most stalwarts of the current France side have played for big Italian clubs at some stage and several still do, notably defender Lilian Thuram and holding midfielder Patrick Vieira, both with Juventus.

Zinedine Zidane graced Juve for years before joining Real Madrid and his experience in Serie A helped him mature into one of the world's greatest players.

Italian club football is in turmoil after the prosecutor in a match-fixing trial against four clubs -- Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio -- said this week he wanted all of those teams to be demoted from Serie A with Juve relegated to Serie C or below.

''I don't think this will play a role in the final at all,'' Domenech said.

''The consequences of this on the future of the players will have to wait. First of all they have a World Cup final to play.

That's all they're worried about at the moment.'' REUTERS AY KP2132

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