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By ESPN Staff

Lippi shows huge appreciation for Zidane

Marcello Lippi once had the luxury of Zinedine Zidane as his star midfielder at Juventus. But now the Italy coach must find a way to stop the France captain capping a glorious career with victory in Sunday's World Cup final.

Zidane, who will retire at the end of the tournament, has been sensational for Les Bleus in Germany.

He scored from the penalty spot in last night's semi-final victory over Portugal and has proved to be the inspiration behind France's shock journey to the final.

Les Bleus struggled to find their form in the group stages and, following draws against Switzerland and South Korea, only a 2-0 win against Togo in their third encounter allowed them to progress through to the next stage.

'Zidane is probably the best player there has been in the past 20 years,' said Lippi, who coached him at Juve from 1996 until 1999. 'France have recovered the best Zidane and they have progressively grown throughout this tournament.

'Their victory over Portugal was just a confirmation that they are in top form.'

Italy have put the distraction of the match-fixing scandal back home to one side and marched all the way to their sixth World Cup final after beating host nation Germany in an epic last-four clash.

They must now overcome France - a team that has dashed their hopes in recent years - if they wish to lift the trophy after a 24-year wait.

The Azzurri lost to France on penalties at the quarter-final stage in World Cup 1998 and suffered an extra-time defeat two years later in the European Championship final.

'It's going to be a difficult encounter and I think a very even one between two teams that have similar quality,' predicted Lippi. 'I am confident that my players will give their best.'