Italy are World Cup giants, capable of rising to the occa' />

The All Whites won't just be taking on one of the best sides in world soccer on Monday.

Italy are World Cup giants, capable of rising to the occasion even if they aren't playing at their best.

They have also contributed to some of the outstanding games in the tournament's history, and have won the trophy four times.

Italian football reflects the distinctive characteristics of the country. Italian society is known for its expressive ways. Their players are superbly skilled and capable of wonderful feats.

However, their teams can also mirror the other side of Italian life, the underbelly, of dark deeds and insidious ways. Italian football can take on a win-at-all cost attitude, based around defence and ball possession, which limits the creativity their players possess.

The Azzurri's dogged ways were in evidence four years ago. They were not overly fancied entering the tournament in Germany, and Italian soccer was mired in corruption allegations.

Brazil were tipped for the title, although romance rather than hardheaded analysis might have been overly persuasive there.

Italy won their fourth title though, conceding just two goals in the tournament, and winning a bitter battle with France in the end, on penalties.

Their goalscorer in the final, Marco Materazzi, was headbutted in the chest by the ageing French star Zinedine Zidane, who was sent off in the extra-time incident. Zidane was in disgrace, although Materazzi had clearly issued dreadful insults his way.

This was, ultimately, a poor final, and the poorest of Italy's titles.

Italy had won the trophy at their first attempt, at home, in 1934. Writings on the team highlight the strange duo in charge - coach Vittorio Pozzo and Giorgio Vaccaro, federation president.

The former had no experience as a coach or manager, and was a manager for tyre manufacturers Pirelli. The latter was a general in the fascist militia. It is claimed they isolated the team for six weeks in a military-style camp, and they did so to keep them from being used as a tool by the fascist Government.

It worked. Czechoslovakia were beaten in the final. Italy also won four years later, victory over Hungary in France, again under Pozzo, confirming Italy's superiority. This was regarded as one of the best World Cup finals.

World War II intervened, and thereafter followed five disappointing tournaments, from 1950 to 1966, for the one-time colossus of world soccer.

A tragedy played a part in this, an aeroplane crash claiming almost all of the Torino squad in May 1949.

In comparison, the next disaster was not one. Italy, mighty Italy, were beaten by North Korea in 1966.

Mexico, 1970, was the year Italy regained World Cup lustre, even though the tournament ended in disappointment.

Here, that dual personality found an outlet in one team. The brilliant forward Luigi Riva was supported by the cloying defensive system known as catenaccio, a style developed by Inter Milan in the 1960s.

In a classic seesaw match, before a 105,000 crowd in Mexico City, Italy beat West Germany in the semifinal. In the final, the soccer beauty of Brazil and Pele triumphed. Their fans danced in celebration on the field and Brazil, having won for the third time, owned the Jules Rimet trophy, denying Italy this historic football achievement.

Twelve years later, Italy claimed their third title in Spain, where the All Whites played in their first finals.

Italy, with striker Paolo Rossi rediscovering his top form, beat Diego Maradona's Argentina and the magical Brazil along the way, then West Germany in the final.

This stands as one of the finest and most unlikely World Cup runs, and is typical of Italy. They stumbled along in the initial group, drawing with Poland, Peru and Cameroon, yet found life when it counted.

This habit of starting slowly offers scant hope for the All Whites, along with that inexplicable loss to North Korea.

Much of the rest of Italy's often glorious, and sometimes tortured, cup history says the battling Kiwis will be, if not played off the park, then at least played right out of the game.