After 120 minutes of hard fought football, a piece of unexpected violence, and penalty kicks, we have a winner: Italy has won the 2006 World Cup and I can finally re-claim my life* and get back to the cinema. I doubt any film I will see in the coming days will carry as much drama as today's final, which was full of heartbreak and brilliance.
First, the brilliance. Hats off to Fabio Cannavaro who, in my opinion, was the player of the tournament. His class and perfect timing in the back, along with the amazing goalkeeping of Gianluigi Buffon, carried Italy to the title. There is no denying that the back line of Italy, playing without Alessandro Nesta, was the class of the tournament and as the old saying goes, defense wins championships. There is no doubt in my mind that today's first goal came on a bogus penalty call against Marco Materrazzi, but since the referee missed an obvious penalty later on, we'll just call it even. Italy was a model of organization, and they certainly are deserving winners.
Next, heartbreak: Zinédine Zidane, in the dying minutes of extra time, lost his cool and planted a perfect headbutt into the chest of Materazzi. There is already a world of controversy as to what might have been said between the two players but one thing is certain; you can't put a thunderous head into the chest of another player and stay on the pitch. The card was deserved.
Ciao: Zidane Loses It
A couple of points to be made here. The moment the replay was shown, I assumed that Materazzi said something racist to Zidane. If that is the case, I wish Zizou would have gotten him square in the face. There is no room for racism on the pitch, and judging from Zidane's reaction, whatever was said by Materazzi, a notoriously dirty player and a problem child on the pitch, was probably very, very bad. Also, since all of the officials missed the headbutt (it was well off the ball and away from the action), Zidane was clearly sent-off as a result of a video replay, which should never be the case. I am not justifying the headbutt (although if what I think was said was said, he had it coming), but I can't understand what else could have been said that would make lose it like that. I only hope that, in the coming days, Zidane reveals what Materazzi said to him and the world knows the truth of the situation. Like I said, I have my assumptions, but I am withholding judgement until the facts come out. If Materazzi was just giving Zidane some stick, this is one of the most mysterious pieces of violence I have seen on a football pitch.
Make Your Last Touch Count: Zidane Is Sent Off (AP Photo)
The reality is, France's manager had Italy on the ropes and refused to play attacking football, keeping a lone striker up top and refusing to go for the throat. I have been barking against the 4-5-1 all tournament long, and again, the negativity and refusal to be aggressive cost France. Of course, in the end, Zidane's sending off had little impact on the game. During the penalties, it was David Trezeguet who missed from the spot for France, and we all assume Trez would have taken a penalty wether or not Zidane was on the pitch. Instead, the Italians bucked history and buried all of their strikes from the spot. Fabian Barthez, never the best penalty stopper, looked at sea the entire shootout, and when Trezeguet missed, there was an immediate sense that the game was over. It was. Italy are champions.** A tournament plagued by terrible officiating and conservative play in the knock-out rounds, but all in all, a great way to spend the start of summer. Congratulations to Italy and I look forward to 2010.
* For three weeks, until the Liverpool pre-season gets into full swing.
**Of course, Team USA drew Italy in group play, the only team to get a result against them, but I digress.