The World Cup final will be all about passion and sentiment. I like Italy because they are such a passionate country. France, however, are the sentimental favourites. I have been surprised by Franceís run. After a poor start, they opened up and even knocked out defending champions Brazil, who had the team, the stars, but not the commitment. You donít need big stars to win, what is important is real dedication.
This is true for cricket, too. Simply put, the more committed team has the better chance to win.
Look at Portugal. They didnít go to Germany with a hyped reputation and still made the semis. They are not a great team, but showed great team spirit and determination. Just like Sri Lanka, who didnít have big stars but still won the cricket World Cup in 1996.
I expected Brazil to win this year, too. They had the players to do the job, but the likes of Ronaldinho & Co. just didnít jell as a cohesive unit.
Argentina peaked too early, and got complacent when people started saying they would win the World Cup. They started believing that themselves, and let their guard down. They are an extraordinarily talented bunch, with youngsters who have a very bright future. But they need to mature.
Germany went into the tournament as one of the favourites, riding patriotic fervour. They are mentally and physically strong, and were playing stronger with every passing match. I was surprised they went out to Italy in the semis in extra-time. I feel they had an eye on the penalty shootout, which is one of their strengths, and relaxed a bit. That was the chink in their armour and Italy seized the opportunity.
Clearly, Germany paid the price for counting their chickens before they were hatched.
I felt sad for England. They just forgot how to win. They have everything ' they just lack the killerís instinct. Just like in their cricket. Like Brazil, they have the talent, their planning looks good on paper, but they just donít have the winning formula anymore. They need to have somebody to finish the game off.
As for the coaches, they have disappointed me. Why do they expect the players on the field to keep one eye on the ball and the other on them' I fail to understand how a player can watch his coach, who is sitting on the sidelines, and give 200 per cent in the match he is playing. During my time, I had no time to look at the coach, I was busy giving my all to the game.
Why do the coaches keep jumping around on the bench' Is it to show the world that they are committed' Jumping around will not change the result. To me, they just look like actors trying to show their involvement!
A coachís job is to train the players, work on tactics and let his wards concentrate on the field. Surely, they can talk to the players at half-time.
But back to the final. Despite the match-fixing scandal at home, the Italian players have stayed strong and put the country first. They have managed to block out all the negativity and have come out with flying colours. I have to respect their coach (Marcello Lippi) for saying that he didnít want the scandal to become an excuse for a poor performance or a plus point for having done well.
Italyís defence is solid, but they need to change tactics. They canít just depend on their defence, they have to attack more, create chances and score. Winning the World Cup is about scoring goals.
They will also have to keep an eye on the wily Zinedine Zidane. He is retiring and will be looking to give himself the biggest farewell on the sportís biggest stage. This is what every player of his calibre looks for. Just like Steve Waugh, who signed off with a dogged 80 against India in the Sydney Test (January 2004).
Win or lose, though, Zidane can be proud of his achievements.
So, who will have the last laugh' Well, my heart says Italy, my head says France. The 1998 champions have the class and a good track record in recent years (five wins in last six matches) against Italy and will be the favourites.
Whatever happens, Iíll say: Well done, Italy, you have done what people didnít expect.