Thursday, July 27, 2006

Italy close in on Brazil in new-look top five

No prizes for guessing the second main dynamic behind the principal movers and shakers in this month's ranking. That small, little-known tournament known as the FIFA World Cup™ certainly had a telling and, in some cases, spectacular impact, and all the more so because of this new rule dictating that only the past four years' results are taken into account.

This was evident from the top five downwards, where Brazil just hung on to top spot from Italy, who jumped 11 places after succeeding the Seleção as world champions. The Final itself might have been marred by Zinedine Zidane's dismissal and decided in the least desirable fashion, but over the course of the tournament, their solidity and solidarity had set them apart from many a more-fancied rival.

"Maybe it wasn't pretty, but we were hard to beat," said their tigerish midfield scrapper Gennaro Gattuso after the penalty shoot-out win over France, acknowledging the colossal roles played by Fabio Cannavaro, Italy's decisive, dynamic captain, and the agile, often-unbeatable Gianluigi Buffon. Coach Marcello Lippi, meanwhile, praised his players for the "unlimited heart, character and personality," that had seen them brush aside Ghana, Czech Republic, Australia, Ukraine and Germany en route to their crowning moment in Berlin's Olympiastadion.

The only disappointment for the Azzurri as they look ahead to UEFA EURO 2008 - and, perhaps, to snatching top spot from the Brazilians - is that they will do so without Lippi himself, who resigned in the wake of the Final, claiming that: "I have achieved what I set out to achieve."

Beaten finalists France (fourth, up four) also burst into the top five along with the impressive, but ultimately unsuccessful Argentina (third, up six) and another team whose dreams of glory ended in the quarter-finals, England (fifth, up five). Germany, meanwhile, were rewarded for their inspiring march to the semis with a return to the top ten, where they assumed ninth position with a climb of 10 places.

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