World ponders Zidane headbutt mystery

The 2006 World Cup final will be remembered more for a headbutt than the fact Italy won the world's most desirable sporting prize for the fourth time, press reports suggested yesterday.

Two days after Italy beat France in a penalty shootout in Berlin, few commentators spared a thought for the winners.

Instead they pondered what could have driven the iconic Zinedine Zidane, with the score deadlocked at 1-1, to charge Italian defender Marco Materazzi's and be sent off after 110 minutes of gruelling play.

The Italian has denied calling the Frenchman a terrorist, saying he didn't even know what the word meant, while Zidane's agent has said he will wait a few days before commenting.

The media yesterday attempted to fill in the blanks, with British newspapers claiming video analysis suggested the French captain retaliated to insults from the notorious Inter Milan hardman.

The Times reported that expert lip reader Jessica Rees, after exhaustive study of the match video, had deduced Materazzi called Zidane "The son of a terrorist whore," adding: "So just F*** off."

Lip readers for The Daily Mail and The Sun came to the same conclusion, pointing out the remarks would have enraged the Marseille-born Zidane, whose parents are Algerian and who has often expressed pride in his Berber origins.

The controversy dominated headlines in Algeria, where people had followed the World Cup exploits of the resurgent French squad with as much excitement as if it were their own national team.

While the consensus there was that whatever Materazzi said Zidane's reaction was unforgivable, media in neighbouring Tunisia were more sympathetic.

Le Temps suggested the Italian had been racist, concluding: "If one day history has the courage to condemn Materazzi it will find in favour of this magician of the round ball without whom France would never have won the World Cup."

Newspapers in Germany and Spain also turned their attention to the Italian defender while falling short of an outright pardon for his adversary.

"The whole nation wonders why, the whole world speculates over the provocation of Materazzi," said Der Tagesspiegel.

Popular daily Bild published a huge photograph of the now-famous blow, declaring "Football's God has brought himself to Earth and landed in hell", while Die Welt evoked "the sporting suicide of a genius."

"He insulted his mother and called him a terrorist," ran the headline in Spanish sports daily Marca, adding that Zidane often concluded recent interviews with the words, "I love you, Mum."

Yet the newspaper said neither player could be excused and called on them to bury the hatchet.

El Pais recalled that Zidane had been sent off 14 times in his career, including a five-match ban for headbutting SV Hamburg's Jochen Kientz in October 2000 and as recently as April 2005 for attempting to punch Villarreal defender Quique Alvarez.

"Never has a player wrecked a life's work in such an idiotic way," thundered right-wing Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet, while Bulgaria's 24 Hours declared that two heads, those of Zidane and Materazzi, who headed home Italy's equalising goal, had decided the 18th World Cup.

The mystery also dominated the front pages of newspapers in football-mad Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation where millions, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, followed the televised matches despite the time difference.

"What happened to Zidane?" asked daily Pikiran Rakiat while Rakyat Merdeka likened him to a charging bull.

Meanwhile, the strongest sign of a rereading of the master's dramatic final act on a football field was to be found in Russia.

Daily Novye Izvestia suggested the Italians connived to have Zidane banished from the arena while Sovietskii Sport deemed that "Materazzi's provocation" had tainted his country's victory.

"If anyone had any doubts about the fact that Zidane was one of the best players in the history of football, they wouldn't after the final," said popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Source: China Daily

People's Daily Online ---