Sunday, July 09, 2006

Italy Won the World Cup 2006



Italy are world champions for the fourth time after beating ten-man France 5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in Berlin's Olympiastadion on Sunday, 9 July 2006.

Twelve years after losing to Brazil in the first shoot-out in a FIFA World Cup Final, Italy made up for that heartbreak as all five men in blue converted their kicks to claim world football's greatest prize for the first time since 1982. For France the pain of defeat was compounded by the sight of Zinedine Zidane, on his last appearance as a professional, leaving the field having been sent off in extra time for butting Marco Materazzi off the ball

It was Italy's first successful shoot-out in a FIFA World Cup after previous failures in 1990, 1994 and 1998 and ironically it was a miss from France’s David Trezeguet – whose golden goal had defeated the Azzurri in the final of UEFA EURO 2000 – that opened the door for Fabio Grosso to fire the winning spot-kick past Fabien Barthez and spark celebrations all the way from Bergamo to Bari.

If penalties can resemble a lottery there could have been no more deserving matchwinner than Grosso, such a positive influence for Italy throughout this tournament. He was one of several Italians prominent in a first period where the Italians played the more fluent football, although it was France who took an early lead. Eight years after scoring twice in the FIFA World Cup Final in Paris, Zidane opened the scoring with a seventh-minute penalty after Materazzi’s trip on Florent Malouda. By the 19th minute, Materazzi had made amends, however, the big defender heading the equaliser from Andrea Pirlo’s corner.

Although both sides threatened to score a second – notably Italy’s Luca Toni, who headed against Fabien Barthez’s crossbar before the break - neither managed to add a second. Extra time brought a scare for Italy when Buffon had to tip over Zidane's header but soon afterwards the France captain was making the sad walk to the dressing rooms.



The match:
6': This Final began with the most extraordinary of opening goals after Materazzi was adjudged to have illegally halted the progress of Malouda as he hurtled into the box. The resultant penalty saw two adidas Golden Ball candidates face off, and it was Zidane who prevailed, if only just, with an impudent chip that deceived Buffon, but rebounded off the underside of the bar and dropped down no more than a foot over the line. (0-1)

9': Materazzi, perhaps unsettled by his role in the French goal, came perilously close to doubling Les Bleus' advantage - and his own misery - when he glanced a Willy Sagnol cross into the side-netting with Buffon scrambling frantically across his line.

14': With Andrea Pirlo's set-pieces as dangerous as ever, Lilian Thuram showed admirable bravery to dive in and head one particular out-swinging free-kick behind for a corner, this from a position which could easily have seen the Juventus defender put through his own goal.


19':: Italy hauled themselves level thanks to a potent combination of Pirlo’s dead-ball mastery and the aerial ability of Materazzi, as the latter gained spectacular redemption for his earlier blunder by towering above the French defence to bullet the former’s corner past Barthez. (1-1)

35': Some neat, one-touch interplay by the Azzurri on the edge of the French box gave Toni his first scent of goal, but Thuram slid in decisively to make a last-ditch saving tackle. France's defence again struggled to deal with Italy’s height and power from the resultant corner, however, and Toni headed yet another pinpoint Pirlo cross against the crossbar.



France assume control:
47': Henry started the second half in threatening mood, breaking into the Italy box but failing to trouble Buffon with his shot.

49': As in the first period, however, Italy looked threatening from a corner as Totti swung in the ball towards the head of Cannavaro but his effort was blocked by a defender and France survived.

50': Henry showed remarkable balance to carry the ball past three defenders but he could not pick out a white shirt with his low ball across goal, Zambrotta clearing the danger.

58': Despite the loss of Patrick Vieira with an apparent hamstring injury, replaced by Alou Diarra, France continued to take the game to the Azzurri. Lippi responded by sending on Daniele De Rossi and Vincenzo Iaquinta in place of Francesco Totti and Simone Perrotta.



62': France breathed a sigh of relief when Toni headed a Pirlo free-kick past Barthez only for the linesman to raise his flag for offside. Moments later at the other end, Henry, under pressure from Cannavaro, found the space to get in a shot but Buffon made the save.

72': Toni turned on the edge of the box and forced Barthez into a low save but the Italian had controlled the ball with his arm before letting fly.

78': As the clock ticked down, the game became increasingly scrappy with neither side enjoying any sustained possession. Pirlo was not far off target with a 25-yard free-kick, curling the ball narrowly wide of Barthez’s right-hand post.

90': Come the closing moments of the match, and despite the introduction of Alessandro Del Piero, it was Italy on the back foot but for all their probing, France were unable to open up the Azzurri back line.



Extra time:
100': Ribery created and then spurned the first opportunity of the extra period. He played a wall pass with Malouda on the edge of the Italy box and continued his run into the area before poking the ball just wide of the far post.

104': France were dominating and Zidane was denied a second goal only by the excellence of Buffon. The No.10 slipped the ball out wide to Willy Sagnol and then met the ensuing cross with a firm header but Buffon tipped over.

111': Suddenly this Final took another twist as referee Horacio Elizondo brought play to a halt and went up to the other end of the field where, after consulting with his linesman, he sent off Zidane for an off-the-ball incident with Materazzi. A sad way for the France captain to end his glorious career.



Penalties:
Pirlo, Materazzi, De Rossi and Del Piero all converted their spot-kicks for the Azzurri but although Sylvain Wiltord, Eric Abidal and Sagnol found the net for France, Trezeguet’s miss from France's second penalty let in Grosso to win the Trophy for Lippi’s side.

In conclusion: Italy are deserved world champions after this narrowest of triumphs over France. In doing so, they buried the ghosts of USA 94 and climbed above Germany as the most successful European team in FIFA World Cup history with four wins. For France and Zidane there was no fairy-tale ending and instead they are left to reflect on a bitter ending to an unexpectedly long adventure.

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