AFTER nine penalties, Italy beat France 5-3 and Fabio Cannavaro lifted the World Cup on the night of his 100th cap.
For a lad who was once a Napoli ball-boy, Berlin was a night Cannavaro will remember every day for the rest of his life. As will Lippi, Pirlo and Gattuso and every one of the Azzurri.
This World Cup final had threatened to be a thriller with a Zidane penalty in seven minutes, followed by a Materazzi header from a Pirlo corner that made it 1-1 after 19 minutes.
France’s system had two men wide and looking to break forward at pace, supporting Henry, and Malouda had won the penalty when Henry headed on a Barthez clearance. So that worked, but it left Vieira and Makelele outnumbered by Gattuso, Pirlo and Perrotta.
Obviously, football is a fluid game and Gattuso was marking the roaming Zidane, but the imbalance in that zone was significant.
THE SCORE WAS 1-1 at half-time and I felt France needed a goal in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second half.
Of all the phases of this two-hour contest, that 45-60 phase summed up the game : it was here that France flickered and threatened and flickered again…and failed. There were six incidents but the French could not get a goal and they almost conceded one from another Pirlo dead-ball :
In 46, as Malouda lay injured, Henry beat Gattuso, Cannavaro and Zambrotta but his shot was a backpass to Buffon.,
In 50, Henry crashed through Camoranesi, barged his bum into Grosso, eased beyond Materazzi, and hit a low cross to Malouda that was kicked out by Zambrotta.
In 52, Abidal fed Henry on the left and he got into the box and dummied Cannavaro onto his backside but Cannavaro still got a foot to the ball.
In 53, Thuram fired a thirty yard pass to Henry,who volleyed a miraculous six-foot pass to Ribery when a seven-foot pass would have gone out of play, and Ribery zoomed down the right touchline and cut the ball back for Zidane, who gave Malouda a perfect pass, and Malouda’s first touch took the ball beyond Zambrotta, to the edge of the six-yard box, where Zambrotta lunged and missed the ball and fouled him. Malouda played for it but if Zambrotta missed the ball and kicked him it should have been a penalty.
The referee either did not see it clearly or did not want to give another penalty to the same player.
In 54, Vieira went off with a hamstring injury and Diarra came on. Up till then Claude Makelele had done a superb job of stifling Totti, but now the world’s best holding midfielder moved forward and played adventurously and tried to win the game. And Patrick Makelele did well in that role.
In 60, Pirlo angled a superb free-kick forward and Toni headed in perfectly from 12 yards, but he was clearly offside.
AFTER THAT the final began to look less like a World Cup knock-out game and more like a league match between two clubs who knew each other too well and were settling for a point each.
Then in extra-time we saw, in replays, the Zidane-Materazzi clash in the 109th minute.
On one viewing, the incident was bizarre because we saw Matterazzi grope Zidane’s nipple, we saw a smiling Zidane walk past him, and we saw the Italian say something, and then Zidane turned and put his bodyweight into a headbutt that surprised the six foot four defender when it hit him in the chest and knocked him down.
The assault was a graceful and authoritative movement, typical of Zidane, who positioned his feet perfectly to allow a blow of maximum force. It was like no headbutt we have ever seen before. Violent conduct is rarely as precise as this. The more you watch it, the more you realise that Zidane had decided what he was going to do before he walked past Materazzi and turned round and allowed the Italian brute to approach him.
If you doubt that Materazzi is a brute, check out clips of his violence on
By losing it, by succumbing to the red mist, by reacting to an alleged racist slur, (“You are the son of a terrorist whore,”) France’s captain earned the 14th red card of his career.
Maybe Zizou, who had carried a shoulder injury since the 80th minute, just came to the end of himself, the end of his temper, the end of his energy, the end of his interest in playing the game, the end of a tournament too far, the end of a season of misery at Real Madrid, and now, after seeing Vieira go off, Ribery go off, Henry go off, he wanted to go off himself. He made a statement : I’m out of here !
Unfortunately, Zidane is bigger than France, bigger than Domenech. He is only 40% of the player he was in 1998 and he never showed for a throw-in. He should not have played for more than an hour but the coach who had begged him to come back was not strong enough to take Zizou off when his shoulder was injured. He was, in more senses than one, irreplaceable.
Wayne Rooney is 20 and Zidane is 34 and while you might read in the paper that Argentinian referee Horacio Elizondo sent both of them off, that is not true. Rooney sent himself off by trampling on Carvalho’s bollocks in the quarter-final on July 1st, and Zidane sent himself off in the final on July 9.
THE GERMAN hosts were magnificent but it turned out to be a tournament of coaches and defenders
Every time the tournament spluttered into life, it fizzled out again. It was that kind of tournament, so it inevitably produced that kind of final, featuring two teams who played what Martin Jol calls “transitional football”
In a Sunday Times preview, Jol said : Italy kept a block of 4-3 and looked to win the ball and break, while France kept a 4-2 block and tried to intercept and break, using the pace of Henry and Ribery.
Unfortunately, as the final went on, France were locked into a system which was not working, so they could not open up the Italian defence. They were attacking a blue fortress by funnelling the ball into far too narrow areas, and it was predictable. They needed to make a radical switch, maybe putting Zidane on the left and letting him swing the ball from side to side, putting the ball up for grabs a bit more, or taking him off.
Ultimately, France were too schematic to break Italy down. They had a small number of terrific attacks, as I’ve described, but none created a goal.
So, in the end, I was disappointed and unsatisfied because the World Cup Final was unresolved. I could not separate the teams. There was no winner.
Doug and Kate had come over for dinner before the match and long before extra time I was saying, “One’s not better than the other. You can’t say one team is better than the other. They should share it. Italy can keep the World Cup for two years and then France can have it for two years.”
This piece is one-sided, but I did not really mind Italy winning. I just wanted them to do a bit more to deserve it.
Italy won the World Cup on a racist remark and every footballer in France will always remember that.