All Roads Lead to Italy
Italy, embroiled in a domestic soccer scandal that could sink some of its most famous clubs and throw its league into turmoil, won the World Cup here Sunday amid extraordinary scenes at the historic Olympic Stadium.
The dramatic conclusion of the monthlong tournament saw Coach Marcello Lippi’s Azzurri defeat France, 5-3, on penalty kicks, after the teams had played to a 1-1 tie in two hours of regulation and overtime.
It was the Italians’ fourth world championship, but their first since 1982, and the victory sparked massive celebrations throughout Italy. “This is the most satisfying moment of my life,” said Lippi, who thanked his players for providing it. “They gave absolutely everything they had. It is just a fantastic feeling.”
Elsewhere, however, the result took second place to a moment of madness during overtime when France captain Zinedine Zidane, one of the sport’s most accomplished players, was ejected for a blatant and bizarre foul.
The 34-year-old midfielder, a World Cup winner in 1998, was playing in the final match of his illustrious career, which could have ended on a high note with a second world title.
Instead, it ended in shame.
Just before the 110th minute, Zidane and Italian defender Marco Materazzi appeared to exchange a few words when both were walking back toward the midfield. Suddenly, Zidane turned, lowered his head and butted Materazzi very forcefully in the chest.
It was one of the most astonishing and unusual fouls in World Cup history.
The Italian player was left writhing on the ground while goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon rushed over to one of the referees and demanded to know whether he had seen the incident.
After consulting his assistants, referee Horacio Elizondo of Argentina had no option but to red-card Zidane, thus bringing a sad conclusion to one of soccer’s most glittering careers.
The game began dramatically, with two goals inside the first 20 minutes promising the crowd of 69,000 a night of unusual entertainment in what had been a low-scoring World Cup.
France took the lead on a penalty kick in the seventh minute after Elizondo, somewhat controversially, judged that Materazzi had fouled French midfielder Florent Malouda as he tried to control the ball in the penalty area.
Zidane stepped up to take the kick and, just as Buffon dived to his right, the French icon chipped the ball and saw it strike the underside of the crossbar and bounce down just behind the line.
It was the first goal Italy had allowed an opponent to score during the tournament. The U.S. goal in Italy’s 1-1 tie with the Americans was an own goal.
Unperturbed by the setback, Italy leveled the score 12 minutes later, on a set piece.
Argentine-born midfielder Mauro Camoranesi won a corner kick off French defender Eric Abidal, and Andrea Pirlo sent an outswinger into the throng of players in front of the French net.
Materazzi climbed high above France’s Patrick Vieira, pushing down on the Frenchman’s shoulder, and headed the ball sharply past French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez and the defenders guarding each post.
Lippi, who had been biting his nails on the sideline until then, pumped his fists in the air in relief. It was 1-1.
For the next hour and a half, it was a back-and-forth affair, with each team failing to penetrate the other’s defense. Lilian Thuram was superb for France. Fabio Cannavaro was exceptional for Italy.
The closest anyone came to scoring was when Zidane -- who else? -- sent a pass out to Willy Sagnol on the right flank in overtime, then sprinted into the area and powered a goal-bound header off Sagnol’s return cross.
Goalkeeper Buffon, in a purely instinctive move, threw up an arm and barely managed to deflect the ball over the crossbar. It was the save of the match.
Shortly thereafter, Zidane was ejected and France played the last 12 minutes down a man.
Still Les Bleus held on and the match went to penalty kicks -- only the second time that has happened in a World Cup final, the first being at the Rose Bowl in 1994 when Brazil edged Italy on penalties.
This time, the Italians were flawless. One after another, they scored, first Pirlo, then Materazzi, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Del Piero and finally, with the winner, Fabio Grosso.
For France, Sylvain Wiltord scored, but David Trezeguet, whose overtime goal had beaten Italy in the 2000 European Championship final, slammed his shot against the crossbar. The ball bounced down and out. No goal. “Penalties are part of the game, and I was prepared to take the responsibility,” Trezeguet said.
Abidal and Sagnol made their kicks, but Trezeguet’s miss opened the door and Italy danced through to the World Cup.
“Only victory is pretty,” France Coach Raymond Domenech said. “There will always be something missing. You can say what we did wasn’t bad, but it is Italy who are the champions.”
Delirious scenes followed. Camoranesi was plonked into a chair at midfield and had his ponytail cut off by a teammate. Materazzi put on a goofy hat and wore an Italian flag as a cape, accepting his medal that way.
The World Cup was presented to Cannavaro, who hoisted it on high amid the usual deluge of confetti. Music blared, fireworks exploded, Italian fans cheered. It was just another night in Berlin.
“Italy has wanted this for a long time,” Cannavaro said, “and, coming after everything that has happened in the past few months, it was really needed.”
Italy has the World Cup. Tomorrow it can worry about what verdicts will be delivered this week in the match-fixing and referee-bribing trial underway in Rome involving officials from Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio.
All four clubs could be demoted to lower divisions, and they are clubs for which 13 of the new world champions play.