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Monday, July 10, 2006

WC2006: Italy World Champions under Zidane disgrace

Previously in another article I mentioned how Italy had made it to the World Cup finals every twelve years since 1970, winning it in 1982, losing it in 1994, which would make 2006 their year. Had one been aware of these facts perhaps a wager would have been in order but reality makes a mockery of superstition. Had one wagered on the events that would unfold last night, maybe the bookmakers would have made mockery of it themselves.

Italy played as they always have, in their native blue, as France played in white. Italy started with Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta, Marco Materazzi, captain Fabio Cannavaro, Fabio Grosso, Mauro Camoranesi, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Simone Perotta, Francesco Totti, Luca Toni. France emerged with Fabian Barthez, Willy Sagnol, Lillian Thuram, William Gallas, Eric Abidal, Claude Makelele, Patrick Vieira, captain Zinedine Zidane, Florent Malouda, Franck Ribery, Thierry Henry. Both sides fielded a relative 4-5-1, the game began and then stopped as replays showed Henry had ran into Cannavaro and was stunned by the impact, the Arsenal captain looking concerningly groggy and possibly an early candidate for a substitution. But to his credit Henry regained his full senses and came back onto the field.

France made the breakthrough very early in what was billed as a game of equal standing but on different measures, Italy's youth, France's experience, both sides nonetheless showing continental flair. A throw found the head of Henry who headed the ball on to Malouda that found the Lyon man entering the box, and as he did so he nudged the ball beyond Materazzi, the Inter defender then judged to have made contact with Malouda that resulted in the midfielder going down. At the speed of play, it looked clear cut, in the replays it looked dubious but you see Materazzi go to tackle, pull his left leg at the last moment but still making minimal contact that shouldn't have impeded Malouda. Malouda then knocked his right leg onto his left calf and fell over. Overall, I have no qualms about the decision and in fairness neither did the Italians.

Up stepped Zidane, the captain, the midfield master of play and skill and vision, in his last game, internationally, domestically, in his local park even. As he did against Portugal, he took the penalty that could go on to see him lift the World Cup in glory to end a glowing football career. As Buffon dived to his right, Zidane chipped the ball almost like Peter Crouch against Jamaica, the ball went up and came down off the underside of the crossbar and bounced out. Slight delay in deciding if the ball crossed the line and then the referee, Argentine Horacio Marcelo Elizondo, pointed towards the centre-circle. Zidane had scored, quite fortuitously as I wondered what if he had missed, which was something he may not have bothered about being this was his last match.

And yet Italy made no panic moves, no subs, no change of system, they continued to pursue their control of the game and made their mark twelve minutes later. Camoranesi went to take a corner from the Italian right then left it for Pirlo. Pirlo crossed a deep corner, practically one of the best delivered in the whole tournament and there have been very few of them, and being that Materazzi has jumped up before against the Czech Republic to score, I would have thought he would be marked as he came up. Yet as Vieira was in front of him when the ball came over, the Juventus man jumped weakly as Materazzi towered to head Italy level. From another corner soon after Pirlo delivered an identical ball for Materazzi to drag others away for Toni to head off the crossbar. Italy looked very dangerous with height advantage at set-pieces.

At the other end found Henry in his inquisitive role, where he drifts off to the side and then comes inside to run at the players. Zidane had not been as enthralling as before but nonetheless he made cool, sensible passing and possession when he was on the ball. One ball found Henry through into the box with Cannavaro beside him, the Frenchman striking the ball only to be blocked away by the Italy captain. But there lacked a spark from France that had been there from previous matches, Malouda was a nuisance more to his side than to Italy by dropping to the ground and looking up for a decision often that didn't come his way. Abidal was non-existent in attack, Ribery made a number of excursions in the Italian third but ran out of space or invention. The first half went to Italy.

Come the second half, France had a change of playability. Henry was on 3rd gear, running on the left and hitting at Buffon, bustling through on the right and being denied by Cannavaro, Malouda broke into the box on the left and denied by Zambrotta, the French were now in the ascendancy. Italy had a goal disallowed after a Pirlo freekick found the head for a neat finish but Toni was one of three offside participants. The game turned to the mandatory with Vieira clutching his left thigh after a little sprint, meaning a possible hamstring problem and coming off for Len's Alou Diarra, a straight swap. Marcello Lippi made a double change soon after, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Daniele de Rossi for Totti and Perotta, and with four minutes of normal time remaining brought on Alessandro del Piero for Camoranesi.

The game eventually ended after 90mins level with France the better side, and as a number of players receive treatment for cramp, tired muscles, the constant engines of Makelele, Zidane, Henry, Ribery, Gattuso, Pirlo, Grosso, Zambrotta still remained. France had yet to use two substitutes. Ribery went on to break into the Italy box and shoot for the ball to go agonisingly wide. Zidane found Thuram, Thuram to Sagnol, Sagnol crossed as he has done on many occasion, and there was Zidane, unwatched, a firm header that Buffon had to touch over, the Juve keeper hailing immediately at his players to sharpen up, because while Italy held back, France continued to press in the first half of extra time. Now Raymond Domenech, the France coach, made another change, Ribery coming off for David Trezeguet, he who scored the winner in the Euro2000 final against Italy, and he who plays for Juventus. An omen, perhaps, but quite simply, France were threatening to take the final all the way with Italy looking less interested. The referee blew for half time.

Second half of extra time, 15mins more remaining of open play of the 2006 World Cup final. Two minutes into the half, Henry was withdrawn for the introduction of Sylvain Wiltord, he who scored the equaliser in that Euro final. I wondered if either Wiltord or Trezeguet would become a thorn once again, but significantly France were down two experienced penalty takers were the game to come to that, in Henry and Vieira, with Zidane a main spot-kick contributor on the field. But with ten minutes of normal time in extra time remaining, Del Piero was attacking down the Italy left and tumbled over from a challenge and there was a mention by BBC1's commentator John Motson of an off-the-ball incident that occurred within the Italy defence and a camera shot turned to show Materazzi on the ground, Trezeguet debating with Italy players and a sheepish Zidane fiddling with his armband. Buffon had come out of his goal to remonstrate to the nearest linesman, the referee trying to calm players down to establish what had happened and tend to the medical requirement of the Inter defender.

Then replays depicted what had actually happened. Moments before, France were on the attack and Italy got the ball away, Materazzi had hold of Zidane slightly and then let go. Zidane turned to Materazzi and made comments with a smile, Materazzi replied without any, and there were a few exchanges with Zidane trotting off and then, turning back to look directly at Materazzi, stepping up to him and aiming a head-butt onto the centre of Materazzi's chest. At 6ft 4in and the strength put into his display thus far, you would have thought a battering ram would struggle against Materazzi, much less a human head. It took a couple of minutes for some order to appear but eventually the referee sought advice briefly from the linesman and then jogged over to Zidane, reaching to open his back pocket, where the red card was kept. Zidane was sent off in his last football game, his last international since his debut in August 1994, in the World Cup final which France were not favourites to reach but did, and for those efforts to go in vain, those efforts to make it for France, for Zidane to leave the football scene in fitting glory of lifting the World Cup.

As Zidane debates with his team-mates to the referee, the inevitable was he was coming off in disgrace. Bad enough to have committed the act, it was worse for him to debate its sanction. As the France captain trudged off the pitch, he left a headache for Domenech, who had carefully held off making substitutions until extra-time to see who can carry the fight and who could not for France, who to strategically pull here, there, and now the France coach had not only 10mins remaining to maintain France's stability, but also he was another solid penalty-taker down, and worse of all it was his captain, the talismanic Zidane. Zidane trudged on further, past Domenech, past the France bench, towards the exit, and ironically past the World Cup trophy on its stand, gleaming in gold, being so near and yet to remain eternally far away from the grip of the France man as captain.

France made no bones of their disadvantage, they still came forward, Malouda swapped to the right, Wiltord on the left but there was no way through for France as penalties beckoned again, this time for the second time in a World Cup final since 1994 that also involved Italy. Italy looked tired and I thought this would play on their kicks. After a while, up stepped Pirlo to score, followed by Wiltord who scored as well. Materazzi stepped up and I felt he would miss but he deposited the ball past Barthez, and he was followed by Trezeguet, whose effort came off the crossbar and down, the Juve striker against his club keeper waiting to see if the ball went over the line, but this time he was not so lucky. Next was de Rossi, again someone I felt would miss but he too scored well, and he was followed by Abidal, who surprised me with his successful spot-kick. If the following Italy kick is converted, then the next France kick would be crucial. Next was del Piero, who was ruthless in execution, meaning Sagnol had to score to keep up France's hopes, and he did with a cheer towards the France bench.

This now meant that the next kick would put Italy into history as the 2006 World Champions, if it was scored, albeit France had one kick left. That responsibility went to Grosso, he who went over and gained the penalty against Australia in the dying moments of the 2nd round clash, he who curled the first against Germany in a tight semi-final late in extra-time. Grosso stepped up, glanced at the ball and briefly at the goal, then took aim and fired.

Italy were crowned the 2006 FIFA World Champions.

And cue the expected jubilant, ecstatic Italian celebrations. France were equal in their devastation, mostly Sagnol and Thuram, the latter stepping down from international football alongside Zidane. It has been described as an average World Cup, and I would agree with that, the Germany v Italy semi final and this final made for entertaining viewing, for a World Cup emanating more for its goals than its performances.

Considering that Buffon had conceded two goals, one an own goal that not even the respected defender knew about, the other a penalty, neither of which Buffon had a chance at, otherwise he had maintained sheer dominance of his goal throughout. Considering Buffon was aided by an Italian die-hard defence, on occasion breached to no avail, on others it was stalwart, harnessed and marshalled. Would have been a game to see with Italy facing Brazil to add another test to that defence. Considering the much better partnership of Gattuso and Pirlo, better than their AC Milan show against Barcelona, where I felt they had not been good enough, how these two made a great advert for energy, passing in confined spaces, running, and getting back under attack. Considering the attacks by their full-backs, Zambrotta and Grosso, with telling contributions. And considering players of four major clubs in Italian domestic football played 24hrs before a decision that could start a tremor of immense magnitude through their careers. Italy were worthy champions.

Talk has been said that the better team had lost but what is your possession and chances counting for if you fail to convert anything into goals? All the penalties were excellently taken other than the missed one, the better team is not per se the team that will win, it's the one who scores one more than the other who emerges victorious.

Word has come through that it was the fourth official who witnessed the Zidane incident and therefore the referee was aided with that information and not video replays. Perhaps the fourth official informed the linesman and the linesman then advised the referee, because I didn't see the fourth official come into the moment at all. And if it was video replays used to reach the decision, then it should have been available for when Figo head-butted Marc Van Bommel. Also, as I type, Zidane has been named as the winner of the Golden Ball award, as voted by journalists at half time per FIFA's instructions. How can you vote for the best player in the tournament at half time of its final? Zidane is Zidane, but there have been more worthy players even if Zidane had not committed his head-butt. It's a farce, yet again under FIFA, I do not agree with it at all and it's one people will notice and then cast aside.



Blogger Skippy said...

I was saddened to see Zidane end his career in that way. What on earth was he thinking of and what must have been going through his mind after his team's loss.

On a separate note, well done to Italy. They have played well throughout the tournament and their tight defence ensured that they are on top of the world once again.

7/10/2006 12:15 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

When Henry went down after that Puyol challenge clutching his face when in fact Puyol hadn't touched his face, I was quite stunned to see that from Henry, as T said in comment. It was not Henry at all. With Zidane, had he gone off for two yellow cards, a straight red for a tackle or othe rinfringement, it wouldn't be as bad, probably wouldn't feature at all in our minds. but not only for a head-butt but one of such force that, though I do not think it had mass impact on Materazzi, was in its application alone shocking and undesirable.

Despite what is said, in such an arena, in your last match of your footballing career, so close to potentially clasping the biggest prize in global football, Zidane had a rush of blood, no time to reflect quickly on implications before he acted. If only......


7/10/2006 12:22 pm

Blogger T said...

Redsman, your commentary during this world cup has been outstanding, and like all great performers you have possibly saved your best for last... enthralling read!

Your article heading sums it up: this is the final which will be remembered as much for Zizou's explosion of outrageous anger as for Italy's victory. Where before the final my first memory of Zidane was his amazing grace, balance and technique on the ball; my memory of him right now is of Zidane as a raging bull spearing an opponent.

What a shame... what a way to leave the game that he has given so much!!

I have never liked Matterazi- seeing him in the Robbie Savage mould as one of those peculiar individuals who loves to court controversy. Whenever I watch Inter he seems to be involved in an incident, the most recent example of this before the World Cup being his deliberate flying elbow that struck Sorin in Inter's defeat against Villarreal in this season's champs league q-final.. the Argentinian captain had to be subbed with blood pouring from a wound. Yep, I have never liked the former Everton defender.

It does not excuse Zidane's reactions, but it is telling that it was Matterazi that provoked the worst in the French legend.

Back to the match itself, I thought France controlled the match without being able to breach the steadfast Italian defence led magnificently again by my player of the tournament: Fabio Cannavaro.

Because of Italy's defensive dominance I thought that perhaps Domenech should have put on Trez to support Henry earlier in the match... with the aim of attempting to unsettle the Italian defence by having an extra man in a forward position.

I thought Pirlo again was great. I must confess that before this World Cup I could never quite see why Pirlo was talked of so highly- but now I do: he has shown everyone in this tournament that he is a play-making midfielder of the highest quality.

I also thought Italy's full back pair of Zambrotta and Grosso were outstanding yesterday- in particular in their ability to generate and support attacks from defensive positions.

I do think Italy looked content for much of the second-half and extra-time to sit deep defensively and play for penalties. This is one reason why I'm not a fan of penalties, it vindicates the decision to adopt a total defensive football mindset if that side then goes on to win in the shoot-out. But I cannot criticise Italy for taking advantage of these rules- and there is something to be admired about the way they dispatched their pens with excellent technique (take note England players!).

Anyways, congratulations to Italy for their World Cup triumph, and in particular to Marcello Lippi for his ability to organise a collective team that was the equal to its individual parts. For it is sure that Italy maximised the talent at their disposal where others in this World Cup tournament did not.

7/10/2006 1:47 pm

Anonymous Nturtle said...

A marathon of quality Redsman...and I think somewhere we should give you a Golden Pen!

Zizou...what have you done?!? A truly amazing display of petulance...or anger...not worthy of his last international match at all. No matter what Materazzi said...nothing in the world should elicit that response, whether racist, inflammatory, grabbing Zidane's nipples (yeah..the Italian does)...NOTHING should make a person do that in a World Cup final.

If Zidane has any sense, it would be to pass the Golden Ball onto Cannavaro.

It was a grueling match to watch...and certainly the spectators expected more...with more whistles than cheering...more "Mexican Waves" than applause.

Not a classic, but nevertheless...a memorable final...if only for the wrong reasons. How poignant...that is was my arch-fiend GROSSO who scored the winning I hate the man's good fortune!

Well done Italy...I just hope you have a club to go to in Serie A when you return to Italy...forget wages...the most "corrupt" league gets to train up players to win the World Cup...go figure!

7/10/2006 1:58 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Thank you chaps. To say Cannavaro was worthy of the Golden Ball award dittos my own opinion. Italy hadn't been fantastic from the outset but they did their job nonetheless and Cannavaro was pivotal to that. France were worse in the group stage and then developed themselves. Germany were stubborn enough to be in the final and that's a compliment to Italy's progression.

I understand now that the decision in regard to the corruption hearing is due tomorrow or Wednesday, they do prolong these things when it hits the media. The players have to wait further to learn of their clubs' fate but that's 48hrs more of celebrations. Meanwhile I read this on SkySports, from William Gallas:

"Italians always act like this [reference to Materazzi's reaction]. It is a shame to say that, but when they feel they are being dominated they try to provoke you. Yes, they are cheaters, but we can't stop that. Fifa and the referees only see the second act, they never look at why there is an incident. I accept when the adversary wins with honour, but that is not the case. We know Zizou, he doesn't react like that, people can't react like that, but he has been insulted.

"I think it was very grave. When you play against people like that you want to kick their ass. It is cheating, but they are Italians."

Apparently it has been rumoured amongst the French press that Materazzi referred to Zidane as a terrorist, clear reference to Zidane's North-East African roots in Algeria and links of some of its countrymen to terrorism. This is a rumour, I stress, of a rumour and not confirmed. Like T said, Materazzi has a character flaw of antagonism that one has to be very professional to ignore. He has stepped in with tremendous effort to cover for Nesta, and in doing that that is all Italy will be concerned with.

You have to channel any such comments into a positive energy through your football. When Henry came back on after his collison with Cannavaro, it was as if he hounded every ball played across the Italian defence since. To say "you want to kick their ass", from Gallas, was strong and to label them as cheaters is also wrong, considering how many times Malouda went down. But if said in reference to the Zidane incident, Gallas clearly talked too soon before seeing replays.

Lippi has two top football accolades to add to his CV, that of the European Cup with an Italian side, and now the World Cup with an Italian squad.


7/10/2006 2:40 pm

Blogger SKG said...

an extraordinary final, an extraordinary finish, and an extraordinary frenchman. what else can you say?

7/10/2006 10:01 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

There were more than the implication of this final being Italy the winners and France the losers. Makelele is another said to retire completely from international football, for he, Thuram and zidane had come out of retirement on request. Also Henry again has been involved in another top football final to end a loser.


7/11/2006 12:34 am

Anonymous Striker said...

Hi team:
Just to add , very briefly.

I have seen this from Zidane on various occasions throughout his carreer, he loses control. This is not a one off, & it seems the public relations machine is in full work to clean up the image now. We are all human , I do understand this, but a champion must always act as a champion.

Just a thought


7/11/2006 8:48 pm

Blogger BlindJak said...

Reds, I’d like to echo the sentiments of others above and add my praise for your tireless output over the whole of the world cup.

Zidane was foolish to end his career as he did but I really think that the press have got carried away saying it’s unforgivable as it cost his team the world cup, and it would forever sully his legacy.

When the emotion of the situation has settled down people will look at his carer and realise that this was just one low amongst many highs. I haven’t seen the same press saying that their respective red cards will cast a shadow the careers of Becks/Rooney.

And I personally thought the game was heading to pens before ZZ walked as the Italians were rarely venturing forward and didn’t show any greater progression after his dismissal. Furthermore I think that Trez would still have taken a penalty and one of the other four takers would have made way for ZZ so he still would have missed. So, for me, his red didn’t materially change things.

7/12/2006 8:39 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

GunnerPete says....Thank you Redsman for you very interesting view of events. Now after a few days have past, the sick way (Penalties) that Italy have become the 2006 world champions, has increased my drive to rid us of this non football way of deciding the outcome of such an important tournament. If not my old 'Player Reduction System', then any option including replays, must be sort.

As an Old Gunner, I can take my memory back to the days of all weathers, leather ball, heavy clog like boots, no subs, only a cold sponge for any injury, extra time, AND best of all 'replays' of important matches. Surely the only reason the idiots at the top of international football came up with penalties is financial & the cowardly lack of will to organise a reply after all the supporters have gone home ?

As 'T' will confirm I have been fighting this abomniable farce since it began. Not only because I know it is not the way to finish up the winner of anything, but because suddenly someone or two people, are highlighted as the useless iems who missed their countries chance of glory. What ever anyone says the contrary, these players are named year in year out as the unfortunate villans.

Two or three times now I have seen a team win a massive trophy, not because they were the outstanding team of the competition, or even of the day, but because of sheer luck! This time overall I thought France were the better team, had most of the real chances, and until the stupidity of ZZ, they looked the most likely to win. Apart from the ZZ act ( why did he not use the old sticks & stones answer to the taunt & then deck the culprit after the game) the French coach needed shooting, that is my opinion. I think the team got to the final in spite of him, not the reverse. I also feel that if he had played with Trezegete from the start in place of Maluda (who was the main culprit for breaking up some great moves) the French I feel would have scored several more times.

Well here we are again, same old, same old. Lost of praise for the winners. Lots of sad stories about the losers.

BUT,I feel we are all in an unreal downward loooooop of poor world football leadership. With Journalistically driven lies about how far football has come since those good old days, keeping the punters 'happy'?

Yes as we see at Arsenal, since Arsene, a world class club, with a world class team, and now a world class stadium, but, soon, only one UK first team squad player ? And he has not played for us yet?

In a nutshell, we the English are not as good as the press make us out to be. Our football boards are driven by Press pressure, and not longterm planning. Our Premiership has been purchased by a Russian, so competition will soon die, apart for the race for 2nd. And worse still greed & the lack of loyalty from players( as shown by Cole, Campbell & Edu recently) has become the norm ?

What has all this to do with my original rant ? Well, unless the authorities & the Press & the Club boards, get together and reorganise all the structures within the game soon, it will implode into an italian scenario of corruption & greed, that will send supporters back to watching games at their local park.

This I will almost welcome. I hope this is not inevitable, but watching players agents touting overpaid clients to bigger clubs, via the press etc. whilst their loyal supporters sit and hope that their heroes will suddenly do an Henry, and realise wake up to what is important in life, I remain an old cynic about the future. Sorry to inject this morose vision, but after reading lately that A. Cole may join the very club set to ruin our wonderful league, I wonder how long before we the paymasters say, enough is enough.

7/12/2006 10:41 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

Thank you all, especially Blindjak and GunnerPete. I plan to write shortly on ZZ's reaction last night to his interview. But the penalties issue is one I am comfortable with, though with some discomfort I am prompted of the financial implication it potentially stirs for the executives behind the footballing scenes in television. It is these people behind the scenes who I deplore, they see (and are very well paid to do so) only angles from which one looks and/or sounds the best that attracts audiences, which increases ratings and therefore their salary, and indeed their position. Football is an entertainment industry, and the question is of its draining of resourceful talent in order to appease the salaries of nefarious executives.


7/13/2006 9:14 am


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