Italy’s triumph & Zidane’s madness

11 July 2006 at 12:22 | 907 views

By Abu B. Shaw, London Vanguard Bureau Chief

Italy’s national football team, Gli Azzurri, are World Champions for the
fourth time in history after beating Les Bleus of France in a scintillating
penalty shoot out.

That moment of glory was however marred by Zinedine
Zidane’s madness in the finals in Berlin. Ending his glittering career in
such a disgrace was the last thing in the minds of lovers of the wonderful sport of soccer!

A sublime tackle by defender Marco Materazzi that brought down midfielder
Florent Malouda handed France a controversial penalty which captain Zidane
expertly converted in the seventh minute leaving Italy’s goalie Gianluigi
Buffon, the most expensive goalkeeper in the world stranded. But the man
that Zidane butted in the chest, Marco Materazzi equalised in the 19th
minute through a powerful header from a corner kick.

Then came the penalty shoot-out, the moment of truth or luck as some call it,
after extra time ended one apiece. It was the second time the World Cup had
been decided on penalties. The first was in USA 1994, when Italy lost to Brazil.

Against France this time round, Italy won 5-3 scoring all five whilst
ten-man France were faulty in the shoot- out as shown by striker David
Trezeguet’s miss. Trezeguet, who coincidentally eliminated Italy in the Euro
2000 final through penalties, was unable to repeat this feat against Italy
in Berlin on Sunday July 9, when his shot hit the crossbar and ricocheted
outfield to the annoyance of Les Bleus worldwide.

Fabio Grosso took Italy’s last penalty which turned out to be the match
winner that Sunday night. His surname Grosso means big in Italian, thus
making him the biggest man in world football. Grosso said: “It’s incredibly
emotional. Words can hardly describe what we’ve achieved.”

The others who
scored for Italy in the penalty shoot out against France veteran goal keeper
Fabian Barthez were Andrea Pirlo of AC Milan, Marco Materazzi, Daniele De
Rossi and the Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero in that order.

France got their penalty goals from striker Sylvain Wiltord, Eric Abidal and
ace defender Willy Sagnol who plays for the German Club Champions Bayern Munich.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi, 58, said after the match: “I’ve won many
championships, many Scudetti (Italian league titles), but winning the World
Cup is a joy so big I have never felt. It’s the greatest joy absolutely.”

The World Champions arrived home on Monday July 10 in Rome where thousands
of Italians welcomed them at the historic centre Circus Maximus. Among the
supporters was Prime Minister of Italy Romani Prodi. Italy was the first
European country to win the World Cup. That was in the second edition of the
competition in 1934. Italy has now won the 18th carat pure gold World Cup
four times. Only Brazil have clinched it five times and for keeps.

It was sharp a contrast to how the France coach Raymond Domenech felt. The
sending off of Zidane in the last 10 minutes of extra time coupled with his
team’s failure to win despite dominating most of the match in the finals was
too much of a bitter pill to stomach for the French coach. All coach
Domenech did after Zidane’s red card was give the Argentine Referee Horacio
Elizondo a sarcastic applauding.

Zidane, the king of French football and arguably the best player for the
past twenty years, was red carded in the second half of extra time when he
lost his cool and head butted Italy’s defender Marco Materazzi in the chest.

The Argentine referee Elizondo, who also gave England’s Wayne Rooney the
marching orders against Portugal, missed the head butting incident but the
fourth official drew the attention of the referee to it and he immediately
flashed the 34-year-old playmaker the red card.

Zidane’s shameful act did not deter the sports journalists to name him the
best player of the World Cup. France President Jacque Chirac, who also
watched the finals live in Berlin, welcomed Les Bleus on Monday July 10 in
Paris where he proudly praised the team and told the nation that the French
captain Zidane is a football genius.

Zidane, an Algerian by origin, and three times World Footballer of year,
hanged up his boots after the finals.

Host Germany won third place by
beating Portugal 3-1 on Saturday July 8.

Photo: France’s Zidane, left, after headbutting Materazzi of Italy, right.