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Cynical Italians blight World Cup final
Mike Collett | July 10, 2006 12:41 IST
This tournament will now be remembered for the second worst final in history, littered by the phony grimaces of pain and anguish on the faces of players as they dived for fouls and feigned one injury after another.
The smiling, laughing fans who created a party atmosphere that transformed Germany [Images] over the last month deserved better than to see the competition settled by a shootout that followed a final in which only one team -- France -- attempted to play anything approaching decent football.
The fact that Zinedine Zidane [Images], playing the last match of his career, was sent off nine minutes from the end of extra time for what appeared to be extreme provocation from Italian defender Marco Materazzi underlines Italy's approach to the game.
They served notice of their intent in the first minute when Thierry Henry [Images] was clattered to the ground by Italian skipper Fabio Cannavaro. He needed an ice-pack and smelling salts before he could continue.
Italian players rolled on the ground, feigned injury, passed balls 60 metres back to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and saved their best performances for when they were dancing around the stadium with the World Cup trophy in their hands.
Buffon was at the centre of the game's most controversial incident when he ran some 40 metres to bitterly protest to a linesman about the off-the-ball incident involving Zidane and Materazzi, ironically the two goalscorers.
TV replays showed Zidane, with a thunderous look on his face, approach Materazzi and butt him powerfully in the chest.
Materazzi had been lying prone on the pitch for some time before Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo took any action and showed Zidane the red card.
It was a record-extending 28th red card of the tournament, and the fact it marked Zidane's last ever act as a player was poignantly sad in the extreme.
The night had started in total contrast for Zidane and France when he chipped home a seventh-minute penalty off the crossbar to give France the lead.
It was only the second goal Italy had conceded in the competition, and meant that Zidane joined Pele, Vava and Geoff Hurst as only the fourth man to have scored three goals in the final of the World Cup following his two headers when France won the title in 1998.
Ironically he was denied a second goal just seven minutes before being sent off when Buffon made an outstanding save from a superbly executed header. It would be far better to remember that as his last contribution to his side than his dismissal.
Although they took an early lead, France never took a firm grip on the game and Italy pulled level after 19 minutes when Materazzi scored with a powerful header, but apart from a Luca Toni header that hit the bar after 36 minutes, Italy never created another chance in the opening half.
France, meanwhile, continually came forward in search of another goal although Henry and Franck Ribery were continually frustrated by the Italian defence.
Only the 1990 World Cup final has been as bad a spectacle, ironically when West Germany won in the Italian capital.
Italy reserved their worst display of the finals for the German capital and somehow emerged victorious on a night the French will want to quickly forget.
Substitute David Trezeguet, who scored the golden goal winner when France beat Italy in the final of Euro 2000, was left forlorn after blasting his penalty against Buffon's bar.
Italy ended the night as world champions for the fourth time and the victory will do much to appease the anguish being felt back home before judgements in the Serie A match-fixing scandal are expected later this week.
Italians will long celebrate this success and its players will be accorded hero status for the rest of their lives.
The rest of the world will be forgiven for taking rather a different view of things.