Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Italians Delight!

Well it is just over a week since the World Cup ended, and so I will write my belated summary of the final. I am just about getting over the fact that I will have to wait another 4 years till the next one. Instead I must concentrate on the upcoming football season and trust that my beloved Leeds United can regain their place back in football's elite where they belong (although I do so in great faith rather than expectation!) , hopefully we don't suffer too much of a hangover from our devastating loss to Elton John's lovers in May! It is sad as always that the World Cup is over.

Italy 1-1 France, 1-1 a.e.t, 5-3 PSO

The match began in an enthralling, exciting fashion, with the potential to make farcical some critics comments that we were in for a dour affair. The first point to note was worries that Henry would have to be replaced as he looked in some pain after only a minute or so, however he managed to shake the injury off. After only 7 minutes referee Elizondo, who didn't endear himself to some English fans by sending off Rooney in that fateful game, adjudged that Materazzi had fouled Malouda in the box, and pointed to the penalty spot. The decision was a bit controversial with replays still proving a little inconclusive as some angles appeared to suggest he may have tripped himself up, others indicating Materazzi clipped his heals ever so slightly. It was a tough call to make in the circumstances but it certainly wasn't a dive. Regardless, Zinedine Zidane in his final professional match stepped up to take. And with great gallic flair, composure, and an element of cockiness he chipped the ball sending Buffon the wrong way, the ball clipped the underside of the crossbar, bounced over the line, and bounced out. The goal was awarded, replays showed the ball had certainly crossed the line, but it was quite an extraordinary penalty to witness! Zidane became the fourth man to score in two different World Cup final matches (after Vava, Pele and Breitner), and the fourth man to score 3 goals in World Cup final matches (after Hurst, Vava and Pele).

After the opening goal it soon became a frenzy of Italian attacks. Pirlo and Gattuso were complementing each other nicely in the midfield, and corners, free kicks and crosses were being whipped in with dangerous regularity. On 19 minutes a pinpoint Pirlo corner gave Materazzi to redeem himself in emphatic style, powering a header past Barthez to bring the Italians level. Thuram was defending well as he headed one dangerous cross behind for a corner as well as making a couple of vital sliding challenges to thwart dangerous moves. Toni almost gave the Italians the lead with what would have been a perfect replica of the Materazzi goal - this time it slammed into the crossbar however. The half ended 1-1. The early opening goal had given the game life, but with the equaliser an early second half goal also seemed needed from a neutral's perspective.

This never came however, and whilst it was the Italians who had been dominant in the first half the tables were turned somewhat in the second. Henry who had been quiet in the first half burst to life first sending the ball flashing past the upright, and then doing well to keep control as he dribbled it past 3 Italians only for his low cross unable to pick out a teammate. Italy still looked dangerous from set pieces.

Roughly on the hour mark De Rossi and Iaquinta came on for the Azzurri to replace the disappointing pair of Totti and Perrotta. De Rossi had been banned for 4 games after a despicable elbow to the face in the game against the US, but now he was in the World Cup final. Diarra, who had barely played at this World Cup or for France internationally in general, was called upon to replace Vieira who had sustained a hamstring injury.

On 62 mins Toni thought he had scored as he expertly executed a long distance header from another pinpoint Pirlo cross, however the offside call was made. Was it offside? One man was clearly offside as the ball was played, yet it was not he who headed it, nor was he interfering with play. Toni, the man who headed it, could possibly have been offside, but if so it would have been by the virtue of a few meagre millimetres, it was equally plausible that he was perfectly level. Henry also forced Buffon to parry but the game was degenerating into a scrappy match in the final 20 minutes or so of the 90, France had just about had the better of the second half.

The 30 minutes of extra time saw few chances. Ribery poked the ball agonisingly wide on one occasion, Zidane had a wonderful chance to sow the game up as Sagnol's cross found his head, only for Buffon to pull off an excellent save, made all the more fantastic by it's vital nature. A World Cup final, so much at stake, and there he was looking as good as always!

On 111 minutes something crazy happened. Suddenly Italians were running up to protest to the ref and the first reaction was, what the hell?, is this the Italians getting all uppity over nothing, are they trying to cheat, what the hell is going on? But then there were the television replays and the world could see what one could only describe as a moment of unmitigated madness, craziness, ridiculousness as Zidane simply lost the plot. There was an altercation between the two goalscorers Materazzi and Zidane, to start with physically the altercation was minor but it resulted in Zidane giving Materazzi a vicious headbutt to the chest, sending him sprawling. Referee Elizonda consulted his fourth official who advised the red card. A well deserved red card it was too. Clearly Materazzi had said something, it must have been something pretty damn bad to cause that reaction. But whatever he said, whatever, there are no excuses. This man is a professional footballer, in a World Cup final, playing his last ever match, he should be able to stop himself doing such a thing. It was a crazy moment, and one simply has to castigate Zidane. To me it is pretty much irrelevant what Materazzi said, players try to taunt others all the time. From before a match even starts till at least when it ends. Surely Zidane could have waited till the end of the game and then chinned him one!??

Speculation was rife as to the nature of the insult. One source seemed to suggest Materazzi was using Zidane's Algerian roots to call him a terrorist. Others said it was something to do with his mother and sister being whores. Others that he had wished death on his family. Zidane himself a few days later alleged that Materazzi had repeated the insult 3 times. This to a man whose mother had only just gone to hospital. Lip reading experts found different things but the fact remains that Zidane had reacted in a completely unacceptable way and later apologised to the children of the world but said he did not regret his actions. To me not regretting it is crazy, if he hadn't done it he would have remained on the field for the last 9 minutes, and would undoubtedly have been one of the penalty takers in the shoot out.

Anyway, so the match went to penalties. Italy have a worse history on penalties but on this occasion they converted all 5 with delightfully struck penalties. France converted 3 of their 4, the crucial miss coming from Euro 2000 golden goal hero, Trezeguet, who hit his into the crossbar. Like Zidane the ball came down, but unlike Zidane's it never crossed the line.

The whole of Italy were sent into delirium. It had been one of the best World Cup final matches for a long time, open and exciting.

Did Italy deserve to win the World Cup? Probably not, but no-one did! No country deserved it, there was not one team who simply blew all and sundry away.

In a way Italy did deserve it. They finished top of a very tough group but they were given the luck of a controversial penalty winner against Australia, and had an easy run to the semis with only the Ukraine to beat (though of course that's not their fault!) In the final they just about deserved it for the marginal offside call.

Would France have deserved it? They had turned on the style late on against Spain, and then against Brazil, and a bit against Portugal through the knockout matches, but they'd also been poor in the group stages.

No-one really quite deserved it, however someone had to win. And it was Italy. Just like in 82 with their leagues facing a huge scandal, they won the World Cup.

The history books will simply note.

World Cup 2006. Winners. Italy.

But I will remember it all!


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