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Stressed-out Del Piero puts his name into the final frame
« on: July 07, 2006, 07:18:15 PM »

Stressed-out Del Piero puts his name into the final frame

Kevin Buckley in Duisburg
Friday July 7, 2006
The Guardian

Alessandro Del Piero yesterday staked a claim for a starting place in Italy's side for Sunday's World Cup final in Berlin, re-opening a selection dilemma that has plagued the coach Marcello Lippi throughout the tournament.
Applying verbal footwork as deft as the side-footed shot with which he beat Jens Lehmann in the Germany goal on Tuesday, the Juventus striker hinted that his own return to form means he should not start as a substitute in what he predicted will be "an absolutely fantastic final".

"My only thought is to exploit best whatever space is given to me," said Del Piero. But in a clearly-coded message to Lippi, he added: "It's not easy to come on the pitch, for [the last] 20 minutes and to score the decisive goal, as well as to go close three times, as I did on Tuesday."
Lippi had earlier in the tournament defended Del Piero's below-par performances in the group stage, but had still conceded to pressure for Francesco Totti to play as the deep-lying forward behind Luca Toni after the Roma player's last-minute penalty had beaten Australia and put Italy into the quarter-finals.

Del Piero's late entry against Germany "was intended to unblock the deadlock between the two sides in midfield," Lippi had claimed the day after the match. It did that, but also re-opened the Totti or Del Piero debate. Italian football custom and practice has it that a goalscorer should always be a definite starter in the following match.

Totti, only recently returned from long-term injury, has not yet reached the form expected of him, despite showing steady improvement. Del Piero had previously seemed to be completely out-of-sorts, with the Juventus trial and the attempted suicide of his former team-mate and friend Gianluca Pessotto understandably thought to be playing upon his mind.

Del Piero insists that France are the favourites on Sunday, just as he had believed that the hosts Germany had been on Tuesday. "France come to the game having suffered much less stress," he said. When pushed to explain what stress had been affecting the Italians, he added: "For what's happening in Italy to the clubs [in the corruption scandal]. That itself is more than enough. Then they [the French] don't have the media that we have. Unfortunately then there was the incident that involved me personally, with my team-mate [Pessotto]. The stress comes from all these things." Clearly annoyed by the question he added: "They are the first three causes of our stress that come to mind, but if you give me time I'm sure I could think of some more."

Although Italy have thrived on the stress surrounding the squad, he laughed at suggestions that the squad have adopted the motto "no stress, no party".

Denying there were plans for any further controversies to motivate the team ahead of the final, he said: "No, we have enough already. Usually stress is a negative thing. It depends how you handle it."

When asked to comment on the departure of his club coach Fabio Capello - who substituted Del Piero more than two dozen times last season in a nine-month battle of wills between the coach and the captain - the player was much less jovial. "No, I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised by it at all," he said. "Any other comments I'll keep until Monday."

Elsewhere, the centre-half Marco Materazzi defended his team-mate Daniele De Rossi, who has now served his four-match suspension for a brutal elbow in the United States match in the group stage. Materazzi dismissed suggestions that De Rossi should have been sent home from the tournament to show Italy are serious about cleaning up their international image. "No, I don't think he should be made an example of. He did a really stupid thing. He's paid for it. He should be able to play. He's part of the squad, he's one of us."

The Argentinian referee Horacio Elizondo, who sent off Wayne Rooney when England played Portugal in last Saturday's quarter-final, has been chosen to take charge of Sunday's final. Elizondo dismissed the England forward for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho. Elizondo also refereed the opening game between Germany and Costa Rica and the group match between Switzerland and South Korea.

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