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World Cup Fever

The Finals Finally Arrive

With Germany the home team upset in their semi-final against the Italian Azzurri and France surprising everyone with their beautifully orchestrated defeat of reigning champions Brazil in the quarterfinals and following win over Portugal in the semi-finals, this Sunday's final will be the much anticipated culmination of a month-long soccer marathon full of both surprises and predictability.

There's predictability because the two remaining teams are tried and true. Italy has won three previous World Cups and while France has won only one other time, in 1998 when they served as host to the world's most popular sports tournament, both countries are soccer powerhouses. It would have been much more thrilling if an upstart like Ghana or Ukraine had made it to the finals. Indeed, it would even have been thrilling if a team like England, who has had horrible, nasty luck early on in the tourney for the last several decades, had made it to the last two.

However, the fact that France made it into the finals this year still serves as a bit of a surprise to some. In the earlier rounds they certainly weren't showing any flare and critics have pointed out that they have an "aging" team with several key players in their 30s, including captain Zinedine Zidane. Furthermore, their game against a very powerful and aggressive Portugal team could have easily been decided by penalty kicks if not for Zidane's penalty shot in the 34th minute. France will have to play with the same finesse and heart they -- particularly Zidane, Thierry Henry and Franck Ribéry -- demonstrated against Brazil if they want a shot at that trophy. As this Sunday's game will be Zidane's last before the legend retires from both professional and international play, hopefully the team will give all its got.

As for the Azzurri, Italy's playing has been spectacular this Cup. Luca Toni, Francesco Totti and captain Fabio Cannavaro have all been standouts. They've been aggressive, strong on defense and played with the typical grace and style and machismo associated with the team. They are going into the finals as the heavily favored team. However, four of the major Italian professional soccer leagues -- Juventus, A.C. Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio -- in which 13 out of the 23 team members play, are caught up in a match fixing scandal that has been distracting and giving the team unfavorable attention. The team will need to get over the drama if they want to stay focused for the finals.

For Bay Area fans there are two hot spots for this game. One, of course, being anywhere in North Beach, which broke out into cheers and raucous joy after Tuesday's match, and the other being the very French Belden Place and Claude Alley.

Go out and enjoy the beautiful game!