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By ESPN Staff

Rossi: Cannavaro can claim Golden Ball

Legendary Italian striker Paolo Rossi is tipping Fabio Cannavaro to edge Zinedine Zidane for the best player award at the World Cup.

The Azzurri skipper has been shortlisted alongside Zidane and eight other players for the adidas Golden Ball award.

Cannavaro, who will make his 100th international appearance in Sunday's final against France in Berlin, has been a dominant presence in every game in Germany and has been a true leader on and off the pitch.

'If I had to name a player I would say Cannavaro,' said Rossi in an exclusive interview with PA Sport.

'He has been extraordinary. He has made no mistakes. He's a player who has a lot of experience and has a lot of maturity. He has had a fantastic tournament so far.

'Zidane has played well too but for me, Cannavaro is the player of this World Cup.'

Zidane, who is retiring at the end of the tournament, was sensational in victories against Brazil and Portugal, with his penalty goal against the Portuguese allowing France to earn their ticket to Berlin.

Early in the tournament, Zidane had faced criticism which astounded Rossi.

'I would never do such a thing, even when he plays badly.

'He is one of the few players in the world that I would pay money to watch him play.

'He has a football intelligence above the average, pure class, an exceptional ball control.

'I like the footballer image that he portrays, his immaculate behaviour. For me, he is one of the all-time greats.'

The award will be too close to call and the same applies to the final.

'It's going to be a very level game between two teams that are organised, strong in defence,' said Rossi.

'Perhaps Italy arrive to this final with more energy and more potential.

'France are a little bit tired but they have great individual players so it's difficult to give a prediction.

'Both teams arrive very convinced of their own chances. I believe the team that keeps the confidence and especially has the best physical condition, after six games played, will prevail. There are no favourites.'

Rossi, who was Italy's 1982 World Cup star player scoring six goals to earn the Golden Boot award - including a hat-trick against Brazil and one in the final against West Germany - believes there is no secret to the top game.

'Each World Cup final carries its own history, it's a different story,' he said.

'The players are different, times have changed, football has changed, there's not one ingredient that is similar.

'As a player, you don't suffer during the game because the concentration is so high regarding what you have to do that you forget about the rest.

'The moment you go on the pitch, all you want is to prove your worth, to score and be a world champion. The rest means nothing.'

Italy showed their true colours in that epic semi-final against Germany, scoring twice at the end of extra-time.

'I have been pleasantly surprised by how Italy have played,' said Rossi. 'I have to admit that I didn't expect them to play as well as they did, particularly in the game against Germany.

'Until that semi-final, we hadn't seen the true value of this team.

'Italy hadn't really been put to the test, even though Australia and Ukraine are good sides.

'Against Germany, Italy answered all the questions or uncertainties that there had been about them.'

The Italians have been plagued by injuries and have had to deal with the distraction of a match-fixing scandal back home.

'I think the scandal has reinforced this national team,' said Rossi. 'There's no doubt that our nation is a strange one because the players have given their best in the most difficult of times.

'It seems strange that the players need something like this to happen in order to give them the extra strength to show their value.

'Perhaps we should have similar situations in each tournament and every World Cup similar because it would mean that we would see the players giving everything.'

Rossi also has praise for experienced coach Marcello Lippi.

'This team is modelled on Lippi,' said Rossi. 'Back in 1982, the squad was made up of players who had achieved a lot of success.

'Lippi has played a fundamental part and I believe he has been the key to Italy going so far.

'In this World Cup, there has not been a key player that has stood out.

'Big players like Francesco Totti, Luca Toni or Andrea Pirlo to name a few, have given their own contribution but they haven't taken the limelight.

'I think the group has prevailed, we have had a player like Fabio Grosso who has resolved two games.'

Grosso won the penalty against Australia which Totti converted, and also curled in the team's first deep into injury time against Germany.

'A total of 21 Italian players have taken part in this World Cup and I think it's the only team to have used most of their players,' Rossi said.

'Italy has been able to take advantage of the quality players they have at their disposal as replacements.

'Italy has scored 11 times in this tournament with 10 different players, I don't believe any team has that variant.

'It truly is a victory of the group.'