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Updated Monday July 3, 2000
France 2-1 Italy: David's golden delicious
By Martin Lipton in Rotterdam

There could be no more dramatic conclusion, no more fantastic end to a tournament. This is one game that will never be forgotten.

Euro 2000 Final
Champions! Shirtless Trezeguet and team rejoice in Rotterdam
Yet, as Italy sank to their knees in despair and disbelief in Rotterdam, it was only fitting that the world champions became masters of Europe as well.

Last night was arguably the greater triumph because they could not have taken it closer to the brink.

There were barely 30 seconds of added time remaining when Didier Deschamps hoisted a last, desperate ball at the white blanket that had suffocated his side's attacking brio throughout.

It was surely beyond hope that anything would come of it. With Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro in the same superlative form they had been at the siege of Amsterdam on Thursday, only the most positive thinking of Frenchmen would have expected anything other than a final act of Azzurri defiance.

Italy had demonstrated genuine resourcefulness and courage once again, proving that for all the attacking qualities in this tournament defending is an art form as well.

Marco Delvecchio's thumping volley 10 minutes after the interval looked to be enough for Dino Zoff to follow his 1968 European triumph as a player with one as a coach as well, after a night in which Zinedine Zidane had been reduced to the ranks of mere mortals.

But sometimes substitutions genuinely do appear inspired - maybe even heaven-sent.

This time, Deschamps' cross was met by the head of David Trezeguet, whose flick fell into the path of fellow replacement Sylvain Wiltord.

He was in the position, to the left of Francesco Toldo's goal, from which he, Youri Djorkaeff and Thierry Henry had all conspired to miss when they should have scored.

Yet now, when it mattered more than ever, Wiltord's strike was hard and true, sufficiently powerful for Toldo to be able only to help it on its way into the net.

Italy were sickened and stunned, all the efforts of another magnificent rearguard display rendered null and void by one mistake.

They knew how close they had been, and it showed. France, back from the dead, were inspired anew, and within 13 minutes, Roger Lemerre's gut instincts brought him and his team the triumph they refused to accept was beyond them.

This time it was Robert Pires, who had replaced Bixente Lizarazu in an all-or-nothing swap four minutes from time, who proved the inspiration, for once getting the better of Cannavaro.

The ball back, angled away from the Italian defence, was superb. The finish from Trezeguet - who will be in Serie A with Juventus next season - even better. He rifled into the top corner from 12 yards to start a party at one end of De Kuip and a wake at the other.

Yet, Wiltord's stunning late blow had been the final proof of France's inability to countenance defeat.

Earlier, all their efforts had been nullified by Italian commitment, led by the colossal efforts of Nesta and Cannavaro, and there seemed no way out.

Not even the pace of Henry or the frantic desperation of Zidane appeared likely to find the way through after Delvecchio's corruscating close-range delivery which appeared to be the killer blow.

He was set to become the most unlikely of heroes. Before last night, he had played just 68 minutes of the tournament, but here he was in from the start as Zoff looked to utilise his speed and understanding with Roma teammate Francesco Totti. The French had carved out the vast percentage of the openings, most of them due to Henry's explosive speed off the mark.

Yet with Nesta and Cannavaro always appearing to be a step ahead when the French attempted to manoeuvre a way forward, they were sucked into the trap.

When they did create an opening, it was to find Toldo in the form he had been in against the Dutch as well, getting something - hand, foot or leg - in the way of every shot until that stunning denouement. For the Italians, it was the counterattack strategy in its optimum form, seemingly ruthless in its efficiency.

The one mistake they made was not to put the French away when they had the chances after Delvecchio had thrashed the ball home when Roma team-mate Francesco Totti's delightful back heel had played Gianluca Pessotto into the space behind Lizarazu.

Alessandro Del Piero, whose arrival from the bench had signalled the Italians moving through the gears after the French had threatened to take over at the start of the second period, was the most guilty. Ofallthe players in the world, you would have backed him to hit the target when Totti fed him in through the inside left channel.

Instead, he dragged his shot wide of the far post but when substitute Massimo Ambrosini played him into the same spot five minutes from time, surely Del Piero had to make amends and send the travelling tifosi into raptures. Incredibly, he fired straight at Fabien Barthez.

But it seemed that even France could not pull this one out of the fire, and perhaps if Swedish referee Anders Frisk had spotted Marcel Desailly's elbow on Cannavaro in the first half they would have gone under.

But there is something about this team that make them never give in. Perhaps it is embodied in the character of Laurent Blanc and surely he above all deserved to share in lifting the trophy after the agony of missing the World Cup Final courtesy of Slaven Bilic's blatant dive.

Last night as the French repeated the songs that had echoed round the Stade de France two years ago, he was able to taste the glory first hand.

So tough on the Italians, but who could deny Euro 2000 finished as it was somehow destined to? Football, truly, was the winner.

France (4-2-3-1): Barthez; Thuram, Blanc, Desailly, Lizarazu (Pires 86); Vieira, Deschamps; Djorkaeff (Trezeguet 76), Zidane, Dugarry (Wiltord 57); Henry. Booked: Thuram

Italy (3-5-1-1): Toldo; Cannavaro, Nesta, Iuliano; Pessotto, Albertini, Di Biagio (Ambrosini 66), Fiore (Del Piero 53), Maldini; Totti; Delvecchio (Montella 86). Booked: Di Biagio, Cannavaro, Totti

Referee: Anders Frisk (Sweden)

Man of the Match: Alessandro Nesta

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