Italy At The Death

As in life, the best do not always win. Italy won through in the end, their cautious nature on the football pitch stifling the attacking verve they had shown in Extra Time during the semi-final with the hosts, overcame a French team who controlled the match from the start of the second half. It was a final appearance that Zinedine Zidane would not have dreamt of, his cowardly headbutt into the chest of Marco Materazzi overshadowing what had been until that point a near vintage Zidane performance. It was a match that Fabio Cannivaro would have dreamt of, lifting the World Cup after winning his 100th cap.

France took the lead through a seventh minute penalty, converted by Zidane cooly chipped and gratefully scored via the underside of the crossbar and behind the goalline before spinning upwards and out of the goal. There can be little complaint about the award of penalty, Matterazi clumsily trying to challenge Malouda as the Frenchman burst into the box. It was perhaps the start the game needed, an Italian goal may well have killed off the game before it had really started. Materazzi made amends before the twenty minute mark, powering home a header to equalise. Within minutes, the Italians had hit the bar from an almost identical move and it seems a matter of time before they scored again, such was the poor attitude of the French defensively. The Half Time whistle seemed to disrupt their flow, the French came out on top from there on. Yet it was Italy who could have won the match had Luca Toni either converted his shot or waited a split second before heading home, rightly disallowed for offside.

Come Extra Time and Zidane stole the headlines. Firstly, he had a glorious chance to win the game with a header that went straight at Buffon. Downwards and either side of the Italian and it was unstoppable. And then his “moment of madness”. It is said that all geniuses have a short fuse or are generally tempremental, Zidane had seemed to be the opposite of that. However, irrespective of what Materazzi said when they clashed, there can be no excuse for his actions. It was like watching a rutting Stag, such was the deliberate nature of his charge into the Italian’s chest. And having lost Henry and Vieira through injury, it meant that Les Bleus were seriously weakened as penalties loomed. The referee took what seemed an eternity to produce the red card, I am sure he did not see the incident. It is unclear whether the Linesman or Fourth Official saw the contact but whatever, the correct decision was made. In the end, the crossbar which was the friend of the French in the first half turned into their nemesis, Trezeguet hitting the underside with the ball bouncing on the line and out. The remaining penalties were all converted with aplomb leaving The Azurri to claim their fourth World Cup.

Not a cracking match that it had shaped up to be but still a decent game, a step up from most of the recent finals. Far better than 2002, on a par with 1998 when the Brazilians may as well have not turned up, 1994 was a dour affair and 1990 should be erased from World Cup history. So congratulations to Italy who now get to play with a spiffing Gold coloured ball for the next four years. During which time, we the English will no doubt regroup and raise our hopes and expectations, only to have them brutally dashed again.

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