Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 10-The Unforgettable Farewell of Zinedine Zidane (2006)

The World Cup in Germany had started off brilliantly with a classic game between the hosts and Costa Rica but the tournament ran out of steam by the time the final rolled along. Perhaps it was because of an all European set of semi finals or perhaps now that the hosts were out but there was still a lot of anticipation for the final between France and Italy to be played at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Germany had put on a great show for people visiting their country with the motto ‘a time to make friends’ never more true. Younger Germans finally had a chance to be proud of their country, wave the flag and sing the national anthem with pride and without being labeled a ‘nationalist’. Around 1 million people packed in to Berlin’s Tiergarten to watch the games on massive screens with the big party coming to an end.

The Italians had flown under the radar in the tournament after having to deal with the bribery allegations being leveled at Serie A and some of the players in the Italian squad such as their brilliant keeper Gianluigi Buffon. They defeated Ghana, drew with the USA and then defeated the Czechs to advance past the first round. In the second round they..well..without giving some of us Socceroos fans a Nam like flashback that will trigger post traumatic stress disorder I’ll gloss over the second round win for Italy. In the quarter finals they creamed quite possibly the worst team to ever make the last 8 Ukraine) 3-0 and then outlasted the hosts in a tense and end to end struggle in the semi finals in Dortmund. A classic match. In the six games in the tournament so far Italy had only conceded one goal.

France had been next to useless in the first round. Their coach Raymond Diomench was seen as a bit of a joke with some stupid decisions that forced him to recall the likes of Zidane, Thuram and Makelele back from retirement to help them qualify. He had decided to go with the now over the hill 1998 World Cup winner Fabian Barthez in goal and while brilliant keepers like Sebastian Frey sat on the bench. In their first match they drew with Switzerland 0-0 and then again drew with South Korea 1-1 before sneaking in to the second round at the expense of the Koreans with a win over Togo 2-0 thanks to the veterans Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.

The team did have some shining lights with Frank Ribery and Florence Malouda starring on the wings. Ribery had a disfiguring scar down the right side of his face and if he had been around 200 years go in France he would have been chased by a mob carrying pitchforks. He was a freak both in appearance and in skill. It was in the knockout stages that the wily old bastard Zidane started to drag the team from the gutter with a 1-0 win over Spain followed by a shock 1-0 win over the flabby champions Brazil, Zidane’s magic resulting in Henry’s decisive goal that was finished well.  In the semi finals a blatant dive from Henry saw a penalty awarded and France bored the life out of everyone and opponents Portugal to win 1-0 and find themselves the most unlikely of teams to make the final.

So to the final it came with everyone knowing that this match would be Zidane’s final ever match after retiring from club football at the end of the previous Spanish season. Both sides pulled no surprises with Henry playing a lone role in front of a five man midfield that was spearheaded by Zidane who was supported  by Vieira and Makelele who would kick anything that moved. Italy seemed to have to the more attacking formation with Luca and Totti up front in front of a strong defence that was marshaled by their brilliant captain Fabio Cannavarro who lacked height but made up for it in tough leadership. Also in the crowd were two Frenchmen who had followed the team everything during the World Cup and were dressed as Asterix and Oberlix, they were obviously hoping the Gauls would again defeat the Romans.

Like the tournament the final started off with drama and excitement. Malouda was launching himself down the left time after time with Zambrotta being unable to contain him. Eventually a dashing run in the seventh minute saw him crash tackled by the tough tackling Marco Materazzi and a penalty was given to France. Who would take it? Stupid question really. Zidane chipped the ball with the ball going in off the crossbar and bouncing over the line. Buffon claimed it didn’t cross but he was telling his story walking, 1-0 to the French.

France were well on top but apart from their defence the best weapon Italy had was from set pieces. Andreas Pirlo was the king of the deadball and had probably been the player of the tournament. With Gattuso wrestling for control of the midfield a corner was won after 19 minutes. Pirlo whipped the free kick in and Materazzi bolted in to head past a stranded Barthez 1-1 and game on. The French were then besieged by corners from the Italians with Pirlo’s radar in-tune. One corner just minutes after the equaliser again found Materazzi but this time Thuram was there to head off the line. Then Toni got on to another corner but headed it just over the bar. 1-1 at half time.

In the second half Henry snapped in to the life after his quiet first half and started running at the Italian defence but another corner from Pirlo again found Toni who headed past the keeper but a free kick was given against the striker for being offside. Henry had a snap shot saved by Buffon but apart from that the game was descending in to trench warfare with the midfield no mans land and filling with bodies. Vieira was forced to go off when he was taken out by Gattuso (Diarra his replacement) and Totti decided to remind everyone he was actually out there when he was subbed after an hour for De Rossi. 1-1 after 90 minutes and in to extra time with the tension more than palatable.

In extra time France started to get on top and attack the Italian goal relentlessly. Ribery came out of his shell and fed to Malouda who was in behind the defence but a last ditch tackle by that man Cannavarro saved Italy. Then Ribery sprinted down the left and beat two markers before his shot drifted just millimeters past the far post with Buffon beaten. Then Zidane got it on the act when more good work down the left saw a cross come to the edge of the area. Zidane leapt and sent a bullet header towards goal but Buffon tipped the ball over brilliantly, Italy were hanging on like grim death but then there was THE turning point.

In the second half of extra time a ball was put forward for the French. It went over the head of Zidane who was being marked by Materazzi who had hold of his shirt. Words were exchanged between the two and then Zidane turned around and proceeded to headbutt Matterazzi in the chest. Matterazzi went flying to the ground. What the ref do? Well, he (like those of us watching on TV) didn’t see the incident. It was only when a replay was shown that everyone saw what happened with a majority cheering on Zidane’s actions. The ref was informed by his fourth official that he had seen the incident with the ref looking at a replay of the incident on a sidelines television.

The ref gave Zidane a red card and his brilliant career was over thanks to doing what we’d all like to do to a narcissistic loudmouth. As Zidane walked past the World Cup being displayed he never even looked at it, he kept walking for the tunnel, out of football as one of the great players of his generation and probably lit up a smoke seeing as he was a smoker.  The match went to penalties and it was all up for grabs now, if only France had nailed one of those three chances they had in the first period of extra time. Pirlo (naturally) converted his chance with sub Sylvain Wiltord scoring for France. Following Materazzi’s conversion David Trezuguet was up next. Trezuguet looked like he lacked any confidence whatsoever as soon as came on the pitch for Ribery and his tame shot was saved. Italy converted their next two chances along with France but it was all in the Italian’s hands. Up next was Fabio Grosso, the man who had been tackled by Lucas Neill in Kaiserslautern to give Italy to penalty, the man who broke the deadlock against Germany with his brilliantly placed shot in the semi finals. Grosso nailed the penalty and Italy had won their fourth World Cup.

Many of us still bitter about the second round loss were even more bitter now with France the better team but you had to hand to the Italians, they knew how to ride their luck and get a result. No doubt those who forsook Australia for Italy once Totti scored in Kaiserslautern would be happy. Gattuso ran around without any pants in the celebration, Materazzi wore a big stupid looking hat and the coach Lippi smoked a big Cuban and looked like a latin version of Hannibal from the A-Team with a grin on his face that indicated that he definitely did love it when a plan came together. Cannavarro lifted the cup and the job was done with Italy being only the second team to win four World Cups. Remarkable considering the turmoil the game had been in in Italy just a month before.

In the aftermath of the Zidane incident there were different stories flying around. One was that Materazzi had called Zidane ‘the son of a terrorist whore’ which turned out to be untrue with some British newspapers having to pay damages to the Italian after being sued. It eventually came out that Matterazzi had apparently said that rather than have Zidane’s shirt at the end of the match he’d rather have ‘that whore of a sister of yours’ which caused Zidane to react. Zidane did apologise for the incident but not for what he did as that would have condoned Materazzi’s actions. Materazzi has always denied saying anything about Zidane’s family it was just ‘trash talk’ claiming he would never mention his mother (who was ill at the time) after losing his own mother at 15.

Still, Zidane already had a World Cup winner’s medal from 1998 and it wasn’t all that great a loss for him perhaps but it was the last time some of that great French side would be in action including Thuram who couldn’t stop sobbing post match. The Zidane incident also made it in to pop culture with many websites, gifs and other stuff pisstakes making it in to bored office worker’s inboxes in the months following the World Cup. Some major Italian teams would have the heart ripped out of them by the bribery scandal and took a few years to recover but thanks to Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan some respect was restored.

A truly iconic moment from recent times from a tournament in Germany that ran out of steam following Australia’s efforts.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.

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