Italy lift Cup; bitter end for Zidane

Italy lifted the World Cup for the fourth time on Sunday, beating France on penalties in a match that will be remembered for Zinedine Zidane's sending off for butting an opponent.

Playing the last match of his illustrious career, the France captain was dismissed for driving his head into the chest of Italy defender Marco Materazzi in extra time.

Both players had scored first half goals - Zidane with a penalty and Materazzi with a header - as the match ended 1-1 after extra time. Italy won the shootout 5-3.

With flashbulbs from the 69,000 fans in Berlin's Olympiastadion lighting up the field and over a billion people watching on televisions around the world, Italian defender Fabio Grosso stepped up and slotted home the decisive penalty.

His goal set off wild celebrations by Italian fans in the stadium and back home, where thousands packed into Rome's Circus Maximus, once the scene of the Roman chariot races.

Volleys of fireworks exploded in the sky over Italian cities, the churches of Rome rang their bells and cars adorned with green, red and white flags sped around, horns blaring.

"This is the most satisfying moment of my life," said Italy coach Marcello Lippi.

The world championship was Italy's first since 1982 and will make Italians forget, at least temporarily, the domestic match-fixing scandal that has dominated headlines and threatens four top clubs with relegation to lower divisions.

For the French, the loss was especially bitter. Dismissed as too old and too slow when the World Cup started one month ago, they came alive during the tournament and dominated Italy for long stretches of the final.

The match was supposed to be a glorious swansong for Zidane, the captain and soul of "les Bleus", who had led France to their only World Cup triumph eight years ago and had vowed to retire after this tournament.

But the midfield maestro lost his cool, felling Materazzi with nine minutes left in extra time and getting a red card from Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo.

"It is sad to have a great player leave the pitch that way," said French coach Raymond Domenech. "He played a great World Cup."

French fans in the stadium, who could not see the replay of Zidane's foul, vented their anger and sorrow with deafening whistles for the remainder of the match and shootout. Substitute striker David Trezeguet was the only Frenchman to miss his penalty, cracking his spot-kick against the bar.

German success

Zidane's sending off and the jeering that followed was an unfortunate end to a month-long tournament that in many respects has been a huge success.

The fears of hooliganism that preceded the tournament proved unfounded and Juergen Klinsmann's young Germany team made a bold run at the title, stirring up a party atmosphere and flag-waving patriotism here that has no precedent in the post-war era.

For many of the 1.5 million fans who came to see the tournament, it is this feel-good mood that will be remembered.

On the downside, the tournament produced fewer goals per game than any other of the 17 previous finals barring 1990, and was marred by blatant diving by players and too many ugly fouls - including Zidane's on Sunday.

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Jacques Chirac and Italian President Giorgio Napolitano looking on, France won an early penalty when Florent Malouda was knocked off his feet by the imposing, tattoo-covered Materazzi. Elizondo pointed to the penalty spot and Zidane stepped up.

The three-time World Footballer of the Year produced an audacious shot, chipping the ball gently to the left of the diving Buffon, who could only turn and watch as the ball hit the bar and bounced down over his goalline. The goal was Zidane's third in a World Cup final, tying him with Brazilians Vava and Pele, and England's Geoff Hurst for the most ever.

Italy struck back in the 19th minute when midfielder Andrea Pirlo curled in a corner and Materazzi rose to head home past a flailing Fabien Barthez.

Source: China Daily



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