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Updated Tuesday August 8, 2000, 9:51 PM GMT
Full-time Report:   France v Italy
Preview | Half-time Report | Full-Time Report | Match Stats

France, having ridden their luck and been just a minute of normal time away from a tame defeat against Italy, completed a remarkable comeback to become the first reigning world champions to secure the European Championship trophy.

Euro 2000 Final
Disaster for captain Paolo Maldini
(BenRadford/Allsport)
But, as Manchester United will tell you, never discount a pair of substitutes even when you are 1-0 down deep into injury-time.

For the supposedly impregnable defence which had carried Italy to the final collapsed twice. It conceded a last-minute equaliser to Sylvain Wiltord, who had come on to replace Christophe Dugarry.

And it then folded a second time 13 minutes into extra-time when David Trezeguet, a 75th-minute replacement when the game was slipping away, smashed a shot into the top corner from a cross by Robert Pires, the third French replacement.

And with the golden goal having therefore secured their third major title from three finals - and the first on foreign soil - the French embarked on celebrations of relief as much as joy, with coach Roger Lemerre earning considerable credit for his three substitutions.

For having taken a 54th-minute lead through Marco Delvecchio's first ever international goal on 54 minutes, Italy looked to have the game sewn up as they soaked up French pressure.

Whereas it had been Brazil who failed to produce anything like their true potential in the 1998 World Cup final, this time it had been the French who were being contained all too easily until those dramatic last few minutes.

Then again, for any neutrals, a French victory was a deserved outcome given the attacking endeavour which they have brought to a tournament compared to Italy's dependency upon defensive resolve.

For the Italians have relied on their superb back five en route to the final, with just two goals conceded in their five previous games and a supreme rearguard action against Holland when reduced to 10 men.

France, meanwhile, had previously scored 11 times and they reverted to the line-up which produced probably their best display so far in their quarter-final win against Spain, with Christophe Dugarry and Youri Djorkaeff replacing Nicolas Anelka and Emmanuel Petit.

The game still needed an early French goal to enliven proceedings though and to draw the cautious Italians out but it never came in what turned out to be an instantly-forgettable first-half.

Even if their early promise was never fulfilled, Italy did at least start brightly as Delvecchio - winning only his sixth cap up front in an apparently inspired move by coach Dino Zoff - volleyed over at full-stretch and Roma team-mate Francesco Totti headed wide.

At this stage, Stefano Fiore and Totti were being allowed too much space, while France were being hustled out of their stride in midfield, where Zinedine Zidane had little, if any, influence due to the tireless covering of Luigi di Biagio and Demetrio Albertini.

And while Thierry Henry did hit the post with a snap-shot from a tight angle, the game soon dissolved into a midfield battle of wills with neither side threatening to take command and free-kicks disrupting any chance of a flowing encounter.

It was the sort of game to delight a defensive sophisticate but for neutrals of a rather more attacking inclination, it was a heavy-going version of a human chess match as France were all too predictable, with their attacks being picked off one by one by the Italians.

In a rare flowing move on 38 minutes, Djorkaeff's low shot was well saved by Francesco Toldo, while Totti and Zidane also threatened, but the luckiest man on the pitch was Desailly, who directed an elbow into Fabio Cannavaro's face which went unpunished.

Zidane emerged after the interval with a clear determination to make more of an impact and only just failed to slide in to reach Henry's cross-shot and Italy responded in kind with Alessandro del Piero replacing Fiore after 52 minutes.

Indeed, they had taken the lead within 120 seconds as Totti provided the immediate inspiration by twisting and turning before picking out wing-back Gianluca Pessotto on the overlap.

When Desailly failed to cut out his cross, Delvecchio, who was apparently set to move to Chelsea last summer only for his wife to turn down the chance to live in London, was there to volley the ball home from close range.

As France pushed forward, the Italians almost caught them on the counter-attack, as Totti played through del Piero only for him to roll his shot past the far post.

French full-back Lilian Thuram was himself then clear as the match burst into life but his shot was saved by Toldo with his legs, a feat which the keeper then repeated from Henry.

It was almost total French pressure by this stage, yet Italy are adept at coping with that, having done so for all of their semi-final against Holland.

And it was actually the Italians who had the best chances on the counter-attack as Delvecchio struck the side-netting and del Piero was denied by Barthez's spread-eagled body.

Hope was running out for the world champions as three minutes of injury-time went by but then the Italian defence fell apart and allowed Wiltord to run through.

The striker, whose cross-shot led to the Portuguese handball which secured France's semi-final victory with just six minutes of extra-time left, buried his shot underneath the body of Toldo to force extra-time.

And if that was not amazing enough, the French then completed their Manchester United-like comeback 13 minutes into the first period of extra-time when Pires crossed low from the left and Trezeguet buried his volley into the roof of the net.

The Italians were left devastated as the French celebrations continued. But then, given the relative impacts which the two teams have made on this tournament, it was just about what they both deserved.
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