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Italy strike gold as Zidane sees red

Italy 1 - 1 France (Italy won 5-3 on pens)
Materazzi, 19; Zidane, 7 (pen) (来源:www.EnglishCN.com)

Kevin McCarra in Berlin
Monday July 10, 2006
The Guardian

Italy are world champions, with a flawless set of penalties in the shoot-out earning football's ultimate prize. Only David Trezeguet, hitting the bar, missed for France but it was one error too many. Unfortunately it will not just be the jubilation of Italy that is remembered.
A red card rather than a greetings card sent Zinédine Zidane into retirement after 19 minutes of extra-time. In the closing match of his career the experienced captain of France was sent off for reacting to a dispute with Marco Materazzi by turning and butting the defender in the chest. Despite that this match had mostly been puzzling in a satisfactory way, as if the teams were in as great state of bemused excitement as anyone else.

Thierry Henry ran into Fabio Cannavaro in the opening minute and had to go off for treatment but it was not collisions that made heads swim. A contest initially so different from all prediction had both teams disoriented. France, in front from an early penalty kick, looked as if they were pondering the possibility of hanging on to the advantage all evening.
Italy were merely shaken, dazed to have conceded a goal to an opposing player for the first time in the tournament. They were baffled with themselves and probably resentful of the decision by the referee Horacio Elizondo on seven minutes. Henry headed into the area from the left and Florent Malouda went down as Materazzi closed on him.

There had seemed to be a slight contact with the France midfielder. Plotting the penalty, Zidane nearly baffled himself in the battle of wits. He had scored the winner of the semi-final against Portugal from the spot, by hitting a sharp, low finish to the keeper's right. Here, confronted by his former Juventus team-mate Gianluigi Buffon, he decided to do the opposite.

The ball was floated the other way, where it caught the underside of the crossbar and dropped over the line. There was an impression then that luck would rally to Zidane's aid in the last game of the great midfielder's career. Minds turned to the symmetry of his impact, considering that he had delivered an opener, too, when France took the 1998 World Cup in Paris.

Italy, however, were no counterparts to the befuddled Brazil of eight years ago. A team that has gone undefeated since Euro 2004 has been gathering further momentum in Germany. They were distracted for a period by the penalty but a pattern was gradually restored and a rhythm could be sensed as the overlapping full-back Fabio Grosso came in and out of a move before spoiling it with a slipshod cross.

It was a match to intrigue and, in spasms, entertain. Preparation and analysis were to become significant as well, with it apparent that Marcello Lippi had made a fruitful examination of the France back four. Materazzi equalised by overpowering Patrick Vieira to meet an Andrea Pirlo corner after 18 minutes and bash a header into the net. The centre-half had put a hand on the midfielder's shoulder but there was no appeal from Vieira who understood he had been overwhelmed. France's discomfort at set-pieces was not eased before the interval. When Francesco Totti released Luca Toni for an effort that was blocked Raymond Domenech's team could not have been pleased by the concession of a corner.

Pirlo flighted it once more and, on this occasion, it was Toni who won the header to hit the crossbar. Apart from the dead ball threat there was a superior steadiness to Italy's passing, yet it would have been going much too far to assume that they were the masters.

In Fabien Barthez, Lilian Thuram, Vieira and Zidane, France had four players who had appeared in the 1998 final. There were other victors, such as Henry, from Euro 2000. As they age some of these players cannot sustain an influence as they once did, but the maturity is present for them to believe they can bide their time and wait for the right instant to pounce.

The half-time break was not wasted on them. Energy, for a while, was restored and perhaps the last traces of the bang on the head vanished from Henry. He was his normal Arsenal self when beating both Grosso and Materazzi in the 50th minute, with Zambrotta glad just to shovel the cross behind. Soon after, the Italy right-back ran a risk with his challenge on Malouda. The argument for a penalty was stronger than it had been at the opening of the evening, yet the referee responded with suspicion to the concept of granting a second penalty for a foul on Malouda.

The course of the contest was disquieting enough for Lippi to act. Having served a four-match ban for elbowing the United States' Brian McBride in the face, Daniele de Rossi came on to stiffen up the midfield, which let Pirlo advance and assume the duties of Totti, who went off. The reshuffle also saw Vincenzo Iaquinta introduced on the right, with Simone Perrotta replaced.

There was an intention, too, to capitalise on the hamstring injury that ended Vieira's participation, as Domenech was obliged to call upon the less experienced Alou Diarra of Lens. Lippi's changes were nearly followed by a breakthrough. The dead-ball expert Pirlo piloted one more free-kick, but Toni was off-side as he headed the ball past Barthez. Neither team could hold sway for long and Lippi's tweaks were those of a manager aiming to establish a better platform for his team. While Zidane was a spasmodic influence, others aimed to send him into retirement with the most valued of all football honours.

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