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Grosso savours the long road to a World Cup final

Written by: Staff

DUISBURG, Germany, July 6 (Reuters) For the Italians it is the image of the World Cup so far -- the look of utter disbelief on the face of Italy Fabio Grosso when he celebrated his vital goal in the semi-final win over Germany.

The wide-open eyes and yelling mouth as Grosso shook his head, while racing deliriously around the pitch, reflected not just his amazement at a beautifully taken strike.

After years struggling in regional league football he has reached the pinnacle of the game aged 29 -- the World Cup final against France on Sunday.

Grosso's career started with four seasons in amateur football, until 1998, and continued with another three in Italy's C2 fourth division with Chieti, a small town club from near Pescara, before reaching Serie A thanks to a free transfer to Perugia.

''Because I started off so low down it really gives me an incredible satisfaction to be where I am now,'' said Grosso, who is expected to complete a move from Palermo to Inter Milan after the finals.

''I don't just keep in touch with my team mates from those days with Chieti in the lower divisions, a lot of them are good friends and will be there at the stadium in Berlin on Sunday,'' he added.

'MODEST LEVEL' ''I am happy with my career and am proud to have started at a modest level. My career didn't really begin in professional terms until I was 23 or 24 years old but those days in Pescara were the best years. I have some great memories from my time in that level of football.

''It really is difficult to describe how I feel now. It's nice to have those memories and to think back but now I really have to concentrate on what is ahead of me on Sunday,'' said Grosso.

Grosso's curling shot, two minutes from the end of extra-time owes something to his days in semi-professional regional football when he operated not as a defender but as an attacking midfielder.

''I played down the wing and I also played as a 'trequartista' (behind the strikers),'' he says adding that it was then Perugia coach Serse Cosmi who converted him to a full-back.

It was a finish that any striker would be proud of -- a first time shot from wide on the right of the German penalty area that curled into the far corner of the goal and Grosso grinned as he describes it.

''Andrea (Pirlo) did brilliantly, for the umpteenth time, providing me with that pass and my shot was instinctive. I found the only space in the goal where the ball would go in,'' he said.

Asked whether, before taking aim, he had glanced up towards the goal Grosso said: ''No, I didn't have time, I just imagined it.'' ''As I say, it was instinctive and I still get emotional thinking about it. I will enjoy watching it again from Monday but hopefully I will have some good memories from Sunday as well.'' Despite a gruelling tournament for the overlapping full-back, Grosso, whose wife Jessica is expecting their first child, said there is no question of fatigue setting in.

''When you have such an important game in front of you, it gives you energy. You simply don't feel the tiredness.'' REUTERS AY RK1958

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