The World Cup Calendar, July 9th. The Taming of Zizou

Imagine the pressure, you have a glittering and highly decorated career that culminates with you captaining your country in a World Cup final. That is what Zinedine Zidane had to deal with, and for 109 minutes, he dealt with it like a pro. Unfortunately, it only takes one moment of madness to turn the tide of a good performance, and as we all know, Zidane had the maddest of moments. But that was just one moment in a truly magnificent World Cup final between Italy and France in Berlins Olympiastadion. Penalties, red cards, goals, acrobatic saves, dazzling dribbling, passionate fans and controversy in abundance – it was everything that a World Cup final should be.

France earned a penalty just seven minutes in. Thierry Henry headed the ball into the box, his pass taken down on the chest of Florent Malouda. Malouda was clipped on the thigh by Marco Materazzi and the winger crumpled to the ground. The Argentinean referee, Horacio Elizondo, awarded France a penalty, yet Materazzi wasn’t even shown a yellow card. In his final professional game, Zinedine Zidance stepped up to the spot, tasked with giving his nation the lead. Buffon dived low to his right and Zidane coolly chipped it down the middle. The ball grazed the crossbar and bounced down. Gianluigi Buffon raced to the ball and attempted to play on, but the officials correctly identified that the ball had crossed the line. If only these set of officials observed the England v Germany match of 2010! It was a gutsy penalty by Zinane, but it paid off and France were ahead.

Just a couple of minutes and France very nearly doubled their lead. Right back Willy Sagnol attempted to cross the ball into the box. The ball hit off the head of Marco Materazzi and caught Buffon off guard. Luckily for the Italians, the ball dropped just wide of the post, the score remaining 1-0.

Twenty minutes into the match and Italy bagged an equaliser. Andrea Pirlo fired a superb cross into the box from a corner and Materazzi beat Patrick Vieria to power his header into the back of the net. Materazzi may have conceded the penalty, but he had certainly atoned for his footballing sins with the equaliser.

Italy were proving to be dominant at set plays. Pirlo was delivering expert crosses into the box and France couldn’t win a header. Materazzi won another header in the box. His header beat Fabian Barthez, although the ball was blocked by defender Lilian Thuram. A little later in the half and another Pirlo corner was put in the middle, this time it landed on the head of Luca Toni. Toni won the header easily, cannoning it off the crossbar and out for a goal kick.

France had Lilian Thuram to thank for the score staying level. Giant striker Luca Toni fed in Fabio Grosso in the box. The pass saw Grosso though on goal. He pulled back his leg to try the shot, but Thuram slid in to intercept the shot in the nick of time.

Into the second half and Thierry Henry dribbled through the Italy defence with ease. He beat Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Cannavaro, breaking into space about eight yards from goal. He twisted his body to strike the ball on his right side, hitting the ball into the arms of Buffon. After so much good work it was a disappointing finish.

Italy were once again threatening for a corner, only this time it wasn’t Pirlo who took it. Francesco Totti took it short, playing a one-two before firing a cross into the six yard box. Cannavaro won the header, but nodded it on to the head of William Gallas. It was a tremendous block, although it would be generous to say that Gallas meant it.

Later in the second half and Thierry Henry’s dribbling once again caused the Italian defence problems. The Arsenal forward burned past Mauro Camoranesi, then spinning past Fabio Grosso and jinking past Marco Materazzi. He dragged the ball wide of goal, but opted to cross, rather than shoot. The dribble through the defence had been vintage Arsenal Henry. The cross was more in line with his Juventus days. Underwhelming.

Late in the second half and France believed that they should have been awarded a second penalty kick. Zinedine Zidance played a pass to Florent Malouda with the outside of his foot. The pass was controlled with ease by Malouda who dribbled into the box. Gianluca Zambrotta went to ground to tackle, felling Malouda in the process. It was a huge call for Horacio Elizondo, not just was it a penalty claim, but Zambrotta was already on a yellow card. He opted to wave play on. It was a big decision, and the right one.

Italy took the lead not long to go, although to the disappointment of Italy coach Marcello Lippi, the linesman raised his flag. Fabio Grosso launched the ball into the box towards two totally unmarked Italian players. Luca Toni nodded his header into the ground and saw it bounce beyond Fabian Barthez. The Italians were outraged, but the decision was correct.

The referee blew for the end of 90 minutes, and to the delight of the neutral fans, an extra 30 minutes of this enthralling game were given. The first 90 minutes had been a fairly even affair, but extra time was a French onslaught.

Firstly, Franck Ribery cut into the box, firing just wide of the goal. Moments later, Willy Sagnol threw a cross into the box. The cross was met by Zinedine Zidane. He had been pulling the strings all game, dominating the midfield, and had now taken it upon himself to attempt to score once again. He threw his head at the ball and Buffon pulled off a wondrous save, pushing the ball onto the crossbar and out for a goal kick. Italy were starting to look second best.

With just ten minutes to go, Zinedine Zidane’s sparkling career ended in shocking fashion. The ball was up the pitch when suddenly there was a break in play. The referee noticed that Marco Materazzi was lying motionless on the ground. Virtually nobody in the stadium knew what was going on, it was mass confusion all round. This sense of confusion was heightened by the referees brandishing of a red card to Zidane. TV replays showed that the French midfielder had a brief exchange of words with Materazzi, with the Italian apparently slurring Zidane’s mother. Zidane took a few steps ahead of Materazzi before turning round and throwing his head into the defenders chest. Zidane had a nasty streak in him, he had been sent off in World Cup ’98 for stamping on an opponent. The picture of him looking absolutely crestfallen, trudging past the World Cup trophy, is one of the most iconic photographs in modern sport.

Italy mustered up a couple of half chances, but the game petered out and for the first time since 1994, would be decided by a penalty shoot out. Both teams scored their first penalty, Andrea Pirlo and Slyvian Wiltord both scoring with ease. Marco Materazzi was becoming a fan favourite of the Italians that day, dispatching his penalty under the goalkeeper. David Trezeguet was a French hero after his winning goal against Italy at the 2000 European Championships. He lost some of that love in Berlin that day. He took a long, stuttering run up and blasted his penalty off the crossbar. Unlike Zidane’s penalty seven minutes in, Trezeguet’s penalty bounced off the bar but did not cross the line. Eric Abidal and Willy Sangol both scored their penalties, but with Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Del Piero each scoring their penalties, the advantage was well and truly with Italy. Up stepped left back, Fabio Grosso. He had had a strong tournament, but struggled in the final. He had the look of a guy having a kick about in the park, rather than showing the pressure of taking a decisive World Cup penalty, and this coolness saw him well. He fired his penalty into the top right corner, well away from Fabian Barthez. And that was it, that was the exact moment the World Cup was won, by the foot of a somewhat journeyman left back.

What a game. What a bloody magnificent game! It had drama, it had quality, it was packed with exciting end to end action. World Cup 2006 was by far my favourite football month and this match was one of the most entertaining games that I can remember. Unfortunately, it is remembered more for the foolishness of Zinedine Zidane, rather than the positive play on the field. While it is a shame that the match is remembered for “that headbutt”, it does undoubtedly deserve to be remembered. It was one of the most talked about moments in sporting history and changed the legacy of Zidane to a younger generation. Whatever your memories of this World Cup final, it was just that. Memorable. There is a huge amount of controversy around the World Cups in Russia and Qatar in the future, but if the finals of these tournaments are anything like that of 2006 then I for one can get on board.

Tomorrow’s game: 2010. Uruguay v Germany. 2010.

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