Over the years there have been a number of major rivalries between national teams. Argentina and Brazil, England and Germany, and Greece and Turkey are just three that spring to mind. France against Italy is another recent addition to this list.
Until the 1998 World Cup, the two Alpine nations were not really considered as rivals. It all started when Les Bleus eliminated Italy in the quarter-final stage of France ‘98 after a penalty shootout.
The rivalry really exploded two years later when the two nations met in the final of Euro 2000. The Azzurri led 1-0 in Rotterdam through a Marco Delvecchio goal and seemed all set to claim their first major silverware since 1982.
However Alessandro Del Piero missed two sitters to double the Azzurri advantage, and France equalised in the fourth minute of stoppage time through Sylvain Wiltord, before fellow substitute David Trezeguet scored a golden goal in extra time to break Italian hearts.
Since this game the relationship between the two sides has never been the same. Italy have always complained that there should never have been four minutes of stoppage time, while there was also anger that Marcel Desailly wasn’t sent off for a vicious elbow into the face of Fabio Cannavaro.
The defeat had a devastating effect on the Azzurri, and many players broke down in tears when seeing Didier Deschamps and his men parade the European crown around the Rotterdam pitch.
After both countries, for one reason or another, had flopped at Korea/Japan 2002 and Euro 2004, they then met again in the final of the 2006 World Cup.
It seemed only a victory against the team that had 'stolen' their trophy could banish the ghost of Rotterdam for Italy, and they gained their revenge by winning the World Cup after another penalty shootout.
However the means in which this was achieved only served to forge an even greater divide between the European cousins. The notorious sending-off of French legend Zinedine Zidane for a head-butt on Marco Materazzi, and the controversy that surrounded the incident, would linger on for weeks and months, and indeed still to this day has not disappeared.
Incredibly Italy and France were paired in the same qualifying group for Euro 2008, and the build-up to the clash in Milan in September 2007 was explosive with Les Bleus coach Raymond Domenech receiving a one-match touchline ban after openly accusing the Azzurrini (the Italy Under-21's) of fixing an Olympic qualifier against his French side back in 1999.
Domenech is another key reason for this intense rivalry between the two teams, as he has made numerous outbursts against the Italian nation over the years, which have clearly placed him as enemy number one in the peninsula.
The build-up to tonight’s game has not been as heated as it surely would have been had the whole debate over a possible Dutch ‘fix’ not been present. Nevertheless as soon as the first whistle blows tonight, you can be sure that there will still be the feel of a real ‘derby’ match.
Past Competitive Encounters
29-8-1920 (Antwerp) France 3–1 Italy (Olympic Games)
29-5-1928 (Amsterdam) Italy 4-3 France (Olympic Games)
12-6-1938 (Paris) France 1-3 Italy (World Cup)
2-6-1978 (M.d.Plata) Italy 2-1 France (World Cup)
17-6-1986 (Mexico City) France 2-0 Italy (World Cup)
3-7-1998 (Paris) France 0-0 Italy (World Cup; 4-3 pen)
2-7-2000 (Rotterdam) France 2-1 Italy (European Championships; AET – Golden Goal)
9-7-2006 (Berlin) Italy 1-1 France (World Cup; 5-3 pen)
6-9-2006 (Paris) France 3-1 Italy (European Championship Qualifier)
8-9-2007 (Paris) Italy 0-0 France (European Championship Qualifier)
Won by Italy: 17; Won By France: 8; Draws: 10
Goals by Italy: 77; Goals by France: 48