Italy broke German hearts in Dortmund on Tuesday when they stunned the hosts with two goals at the fag end of extra-time to go through to the World Cup final. But if the Italians were able to take the match that far it was mainly because of the unyielding efforts of their captain Fabio Cannavaro.
The 32-year-old central defender, who moved to Juventus last year, displayed a cool head and came up with stout-hearted tackling to cut off whatever threats the speedy German striking duo of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski posed. So calm was Cannavaro that the Italians never felt handicapped by the absence of their other key defender Alessandro Nesta, who had to sit out of the semi-final because of an injury.
Thanks to Cannavaro, Italy have conceded just one goal right through the tournament, that too an own one against the United States. His clean tackling and quick release of the ball prevented the Germans from making off-the-ball runs and splintering through. He was so quick on the ball that Germany's midfield maestro Michael Ballack was not allowed the space to manoeuver and create the openings for his strikers.
Born in Naples, Cannavaro has a laid-back approach but widespread popularity in the game. His positioning, timing and reading of the game has made him one of the top central defenders in the world. It is rare to see a spectacular, last-ditch, sliding tackle from the former Parma defender because he hardly ever finds himself needing to take desperate measures.
At Juventus he plays alongside Frenchman Lilian Thuram, with whom he spent several years at Parma, while for Italy it is AC Milan centre-half Nesta who has been his long-term partner.
Another strong and established relationship and understanding also helps Italy's defence -- Juve and Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon learnt his trade behind Cannavaro at Parma and the pair's astute observation ensure confusion is kept at bay for club and country.
Cannavaro made his Serie A debut in 1993 for Napoli in a 4-3 defeat to Juventus and after three seasons with his home town club he moved to Parma in 1995.
While he was unable to win an Italian title during his seven seasons with Parma, he played European football in every single campaign and was also part of two European championship winning Italy Under-21 teams.
After debuting for the full Italy side in 1997 he became a fixture in the line-up with his major breakthrough coming in the 1998 World Cup when his performances caught the eye of a global audience and it seemed only a matter of time before he left Parma for a bigger club.
It took another four years before he got that chance. Having been linked to Juventus, AC Milan and Real Madrid among others, he moved to Inter Milan.
As with so many Inter signings, Cannavaro struggled for form at times at the San Siro but a move to Juventus last season led him to regain his consistency and finally get his hands on a "scudetto".
Now the Azzurri are looking up to him to stand firm in final on July 9.