Scotland stages a battle of the blues

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SCOTLAND didn't make it and England didn't last long, but today's World Cup final remains a matter of national pride for at least 55,000 football fans north of the Border.

In bars, restaurants and homes from Selkirk to Stornoway, French and Italian ex-pats will be cheering their teams on to glory in the greatest prize in soccer. Yesterday, the passionate Azzurri supporters were already draped in their national strip and hanging out the colours of their red, green and white national flag in anticipation of the showdown.

Meanwhile, fans of Les Blues were preparing to shut up their businesses and chilling bottles of champagne. The rivalry was among its fiercest in Edinburgh's Grassmarket, where Italian and French restaurateurs compete for trade - and dream of footballing immortality - just one door apart.

Outside Gennaro's Italian restaurant, the national flag waved defiantly at its French neighbour, Petit Paris. Gennaro's kitchen staff, dressed in the famous blue national colours, closely watched their Gallic rivals.

Waiters and waitresses at Petit Paris returned tongue-in-cheek glowers, and the odd flourish of their arms, in the direction of the Italian restaurant as they served food to diners outside.

Stefano Baba, duty manager of Gennaro's, said the restaurant would be closed today to allow its 25 staff to "celebrate Italy's victory".

He said: "We are all going to the pub to watch the match and then coming back to the restaurant for a big celebration. We have put up our Italian flag this morning and some of the staff have got strips on. The French were looking a bit upset already."

But Robin Parmantier, 24, a waiter at Petit Paris, explained that staff at his restaurant would be working during the match.

He claimed, somewhat controversially: "The Italian people stop work far too easily. We are French and our way is to be strong. I am going to buy a bottle of champagne tomorrow and I will be opening it in the restaurant at the first goal to celebrate.

"After we close I expect we will have some food and open some good wine. We will take our time to enjoy our victory."

One Scots-Italian planning to be in Berlin today for the final will be Alessandro Nardini, cousin of the actress Daniella and member of the famous ice cream clan.

Together with a group of his cousins and friends, he will be leaving his mother Laurette and sister Alessia to run the Seaview Cafe in Wemyss Bay, while he soaks up the World Cup atmosphere for real.

The last time Italy won the coveted trophy, in 1982, Nardini was 12 years old and was visiting family in Italy at the time. In Berlin he will show off his Scots-Italian heritage by wearing a kilt with his Italian strip.

"There were horns going off and lots of people celebrating," he recalls. "I'm hoping that we can get a little bit of the same by being in Berlin for the match.

"We are flying out first thing in the morning from Glasgow and have tickets for the big screen near the stadium. I hope they win as we have suffered too many heartbreaks with the Italian team.

"Everyone at the cafe has been kitted out with Italian T-shirts and there is going to be a big party if they win. A lot of my family are going to be in Italy where my uncle has had his entire house decked out and half the town is coming to watch the game."

Another Scot due to be at the final is Paula Romano, the 28-year-old wife of Italy midfielder Gennaro Gattuso. The couple met when Gattuso played for Rangers. Romano and members of her family, including her father, the Glasgow restaurateur Mario Romano, will be at the match.

There are more than 10,000 Italian nationals registered as living in Scotland and at least 40,000 Scots of Italian descent in the country.

Philip Contini and his wife Mary, directors of Scotland's oldest delicatessen and Italian wine merchant, Valvona & Crolla, in Edinburgh, have gone on holiday to Italy to soak up the atmosphere of the big match.

Their daughter Francesca Contini told how the mood in their deli and VinCaffe business had grown to fever pitch as the final approached, but admitted to some mixed loyalties. She said: "Unfortunately, I drew France in the sweepstake at work and I could win 100 if they lift the cup.

"It would certainly help reduce the pain if Italy lose, but my loyalty still lies with the Italians.

"My uncle Victor Crolla was totally football-daft. He died in December but would have loved to see this match. I wonder if this is down to him pulling some strings in heaven."

Nationalist MSP Linda Fabiani, whose grandfather came to Scotland with the first generation of Italians in the 1920s, said: "I have been supporting Italy through and through.

"I was in France for their semi-final [against Portugal] and they were really nice to us so I feel a bit of divided loyalties. I will be at home in Strathaven with a bottle of Chianti and my fingers crossed."

Although less well represented in Scotland, with fewer than 10,000 nationals, the French still promised to throw a good party if their side were victorious.

Jean-Michel Gauffre, former executive chef of the Edinburgh Sheraton and owner of La Garrigue, in Edinburgh, has taken the unusual step of closing the restaurant today.

But while he will be watching the match, the restaurateur's sons Pascal and Jean-Laurent, have opted to go to T in the Park instead of cheering on their father's home country. He said: "We open on Sundays throughout the summer but not this weekend because we want to watch the World Cup."

Cafe St Honore, in Edinburgh city centre, said the restaurant would be staffed entirely by Scots, Irish and Poles today as the French employees had been given the day off.

But diplomats at the Consulate Generals for both nations were last night maintaining a suitably diplomatic silence on the result of the game. Neither were available for comment.

And residents of the East Lothian town of Musselburgh, which is twinned with both Champigny-sur-Marne in France and Rosignano Marittimo in Italy, were also refusing totake sides.

Rod Reeves, secretary of the Musselburgh Twinning Association, said: "I think in this case we will be staying neutral."

A game of two halves for football-mad nation

ITALY'S World Cup team are just 90 minutes away from the ultimate prize in football, and if they achieve victory tonight it might just help ease the scandal that has engulfed the domestic game.

As more than 50 million Italians sit down in front of TVs in their homes, or gather in piazzas and pizzerias across the country for the game, at least they will forget for a while what has been dubbed Moggigate.

There are even plans for a welcome home party, despite the fact that it would take place when four of the country's top Serie A clubs - Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio - face being demoted to lower divisions for their part in a referee scandal.

Details first emerged in a series of explosive leaked telephone taps between Juventus director Luciano Moggi and Italian FA officials, to appoint favourable referees for their matches.

In return, the officials and referees were given Rolex watches and discounts on cars from Juventus's main backer - the Turin-based auto giant Fiat.

The plot took another twist last Tuesday when Gianluca Pessotto, a former Italian international and now general manager of Juventus, suffered multiple fractures after falling from a window at the club's headquarters.

Still seriously ill in hospital, sources said the 35-year-old was not implicated in the scandal.

In all, 28 officials, referees and linesmen faced charges of sporting fraud in a hearing which took place last week at Rome's Olympic stadium and concluded on Friday.

A verdict is expected at the latest by Tuesday, and the suggestion is that, at least, Juventus could find themselves playing the equivalent of Division Three football next year.

Thirteen of the players in the Italian squad, including captain Fabio Cannavaro, who plays at Juventus, are in one of the four implicated teams. Although they have all pledged to remain with their clubs if relegated, many view that as extremely unlikely. Most Italians, although proud of what their side has achieved, have suggested the national team has played out of its skin so its top players can put themselves in the "transfer shop window" for next season.

Rome-based lawyer Gianluca Pagliaro is typical of many fans. He said: "Of course I'm delighted with the fact that Italy are in the World Cup final.

"It will be great if Italy win the World Cup, but the joy will only last a few hours because then we will have the verdicts from the hearing.

"We could go from being the footballing heroes of the world one minute to the footballing villains the next, and this being Italy, it won't be the last football scandal."