Italy have won the World Cup, beating France on penalties after the teams had battled to a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes of absorbing football.
Fabio Grosso was the man who secured Italy their fourth world title after David Trezeguet had missed the crucial spot-kick for France. It was a sweet moment for Marcello Lippi and his players, erasing the memory of their 1994 final defeat to Brazil on penalties.
France will feel the outcome was harsh given their contribution to an engrossing match. However, they will look back on one moment of madness during extra-time, when Zinedine Zidane, playing the final match of an illustrious career, head butted Marco Materazzi, giving the referee little option but to show him a red card.
It was not the end that Zidane had in mind when he had given France the lead from the penalty spot early in the game, but unfortunately, it will be the moment from this match that he will have to live down. Zidane’s effort was cancelled out by Materazzi, but with their playmaker on the pitch, France always looked the team more likely to force a winner.
There was concern for France in the first minute when Thierry Henry required prolonged treatment after running into Fabio Cannavaro, but the striker was soon on his feet again, and was to prove a constant menace for the Italian defence.
After just six minutes France had a dream start when Malouda burst into the penalty area before being clipped by Materazzi. The referee pointed straight to the penalty spot and up stepped Zidane, who produced the cheekiest of chips which came back off the bar before crossing the line.
The lead lasted just 12 minutes until Marco Materazzi, the man who gave away the penalty, rose above Vieira to head home Pirlo’s corner for the equaliser.
Italy had a wonderful opportunity to take the lead when Gattuso slipped a pass through to Toni, whose effort was wonderfully blocked by Thuram. From the resulting corner, France’s weakness from corners was exposed again when Toni rose to meet Pirlo’s cross but his header cannoned off the bar.
Henry started the second half by bursting through several tackles before producing a tame finish which Buffon had no trouble gathering. At the other end, Italy again caused panic in the French defence from a corner but when the ball was eventually cleared it was swept up field for Henry who waltzed through Italy’s defence before squaring the ball across the face of the goal where it was cleared by Cannavaro.
France were definitely in the ascendancy after the break with Henry and Zidane becoming increasingly influential. The French broke through again following a sweeping move involving Ribery and Zidane before Malouda’s was denied by a marvellous scrambling tackle by Zambrotta.
However, France suffered a major setback ten minutes after the interval when the influential Vieira was forced off clutching his hamstring. Vieira’s withdrawal saw the introduction of Diarra, while Lippi brought on De Rossi and Iaquinta for Perrotta and the disappointing Totti.
The loss of Vieira didn’t appear to affect France’s attacking momentum and Henry brought another fine save from Buffon after he got the better of Cannavaro. At the other end, Italy, who were looking sluggish at this stage, thought they had taken the lead when Toni powered home a header but the linesman flagged for offside.
With Italy not really functioning as an attacking force, and France struggling to fashion chances despite an abundance of possession, it came as no surprise to see the match ending in stalemate and entering extra-time.
The pattern of the game which had been set after the interval, continued into extra-time with Italy on the back foot while France probed for an opening. Their best chance came when Ribery and Malouda combined well on the edge of the Italian area, but Ribery’s effort just flew inches wide.
It was Ribery’s last touch of the ball, because coach Raymond Domenech, in a bold move given the delicate state of the game, withdrew the midfielder in favour of striker David Trezeguet.
Zidane, who was showing no signs of fatigue, almost ended the deadlock when he rose to meet a cross from Sagnol, but his goal bound header was tipped over by Buffon. The playmaker was at the heart of the action shortly afterwards when he thrust his head into the chest of Marco Materazzi, and the referee, after consulting with his assistant, gave Zidane his marching orders. It was a sad end to a wonderful career, but it had been a remarkably petulant act for a player of his experience, given that this was a World Cup final.
With ten minutes remaining Italy had the advantage of playing with an extra man, but they lacked the invention to create any clear cut chances. If anything, it was France, who looked the side more likely to score, but they lacked the manpower in the final third to cause trouble for Buffon and in the end the sides could only be separated by penalties.
Pirlo stepped up to take the first penalty and he drove straight through the middle as Barthez diving to his right. For France, Wiltord sent Buffon the wrong way, before Materazzi, who had been involved in most of the dramatic moments of the match, slotted his effort into the corner. Trezeguet went for power rather than precision, but struck the bar to leave France trailing. De Rossi, found the corner to increase Italy’s lead, before Abidal sent Buffon the wrong way. Del Piero was next up for Italy and he tucked his into the corner, meaning France could not afford to miss their next penalty. Sagnol gave France some hope before Grosso extinguished them with an emphatic finish.
If Italian football is eventually to emerge from the scandal engulfing its domestic game, then this victory will be as good a starting point as any. Although not at their best for large parts of the final, they have forged an indomitable spirit throughout the competition, and in Fabio Cannavaro they had arguably the player of the tournament.
For France, the post-mortem will revolve around Zidane’s extraordinary assault on Materazzi. Whatever, the provocation, he will know that when he was most needed he let his team down. His achievements over the course of a marvellous career, will not be forgotten because of this one moment of stupidity, but it will remain a stain that could ultimately undermine his claim to be one of the all-time greats.
Italy: Buffon; Zambrotta, Grosso, Cannavaro, Materazzi; Gattuso, Camoranesi, Pirlo, Perrotta; Totti; Toni.
Subs used: De Rossi 61 (for Perrotta) Iaquinta 61 (for Totti), del Piero 86 (for Camoranesi)
Bookings: Zambrotta 5
France: Barthez; Sagnol, Abidal, Thuram, Gallas; Makelele, Vieira, Malouda, Ribery, Zidane; Henry.
Subs used: Diarra 56 (for Vieira), Trezeguet 100 (for Ribery), Wiltord 107 (for Henry).
Bookings: Sagnol 12, Diarra 76, Malouda 111
Sent-off: Zidane 110
Referee: Horacio Elizondo (Argentina).
France: Zidane (pen) 7
Italy: Materazzi 19
De Rossi (Scored)
Del Piero (Scored)