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Football: Tardelli has the expertise in stress rapture

One person in particular will understand the pressures on the Italian and English players when they face each other in the Stadio Olimpico.

Marco Tardelli won a World Cup winners medal with Italy, and will be actively involved again in Saturday's game as the No 2 to the Italian coach Cesare Maldini. He talked to Jane Nottage.

For football fans around the world Marco Tardelli's passionate celebration of the spectacular second goal of the final against West Germany was one of the definitive images of the 1982 World Cup finals.

Yet little more than a fortnight earlier the Italians had been widely castigated by their own press and supporters. Tardelli, we can assume, knows all about pressure.

"In 1982 everyone said we were finished," he said. "We had enormous pressure on us, but that made us close ranks and unite. We were more together as a team than ever before. This kind of mental strength comes from within and it is this strength that we need to win on Saturday. I think in the end the team that wins will be the one with the right mental attitude as well as talent."

As far as talent is concerned, Tardelli is impressed by many of England's young players. "One of the best England players is Paul Scholes. He was on excellent form during the Tournoi in France last summer, and since then he has come into his own. He's dangerous because you don't see him but he inflicts the most damage. You think everything is under control when suddenly there he is threatening to score, and you think: `Where the hell did he come from?'

"David Beckham is another class player, although he has yet to score for England. But the man I fear most is Glenn Hoddle. He was a classy, elegant player with great vision and passing ability, and he has incorporated that in the team. He's changed the old 4-4-2 to bring five players in defence, and that combines the old style with the new. I also think both [Tony] Adams and [David] Seaman will be the cornerstones of England's defence."

In recent weeks Tardelli has made several visits to Britain, taking in the games between Wimbledon and Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea, and Manchester United and Juventus. All provided opportunities for Tardelli to help Maldini. The two formed their partnership when they looked after the Italian under-21 side, and continued with it when Maldini was made coach of the national team last December.

Still the playing memories linger. "You know, when I walk into the Olympic Stadium on Saturday I will ask myself the same question that I always ask: `Could I still play?'" He pauses before smiling: "And the answer is always no. At first it was difficult to make the transition from player to management, but now I feel my new role is as stimulating as playing."

Things have changed since Tardelli's day, not least on the financial front. Does he think the huge pay packets have produced less hungry players? "Definitely. When you earn pounds 100,000 a year you are still hungry for more, but when you are on a contract worth several million pounds I think it takes away the edge."

Not that this will be a problem on Saturday. "When you have a place in the World Cup finals at stake you don't need pushing."