Italy beats France, wins 4th World Cup

Les Bleus' Zidane gets red card in final match of storied career


BERLIN — Italy beat France 5-3 on penalties to win the World Cup final on Sunday night after Zinedine Zidane was sensationally sent off in his last game.

News photoItaly team captain Fabio Cannavaro lifts the World Cup Trophy aloft after his team defeated France in a penalty shootout victory on Sunday night.

The match ended 1-1 after extra time, which meant a shootout, and in front of 69,000 fans at Olympic Stadium, Fabio Grosso fired his spot-kick past Fabien Barthez to give Italy the victory after David Trezeguet had hit France’s second penalty against the bar.

“It’s incredibly emotional, words can’t really describe it,” Grosso said. “Maybe we still don’t realize what has been achieved. We really wanted to win and we did it.”

An equally emotional Marcello Lippi paid tribute to his players.

“I just want to say thanks to them,” the Italian coach said. “They gave me absolutely everything they had. It is a wonderful feeling, it is something that you can only get in this job.”

A penalty kick by Zidane had put France in front early on, but Marco Materazzi’s header later in the first period drew Italy level, and it was Zidane’s head butt on the Italian defender in the 108th minute of extra time that made the referee show the red card.

Materazzi said something to Zidane after the two challenged for the ball, and it was enough for the 34-year-old to turn around and slam his bald head into his opponent’s chest.

The Italian didn’t need any encouragement to fling himself to the ground, but at first it seemed as if the referee and the linesman hadn’t seen it, despite the furious protests of ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon to the latter.

Amid a lengthy delay, Lippi had to be restrained before referee Horacio Elizondo consulted with his linesman and then raced over to Zidane to brandish the red card.

French coach Raymond Domenech threw his hands up in disgust before sarcastically clapping the decision.

“He was missed in the last 20 minutes tonight — it weighed heavily on us,” was all Domenech would say of his captain’s dismissal immediately after the match.

Deafening boos rained down as Zidane trotted off the pitch, and it was a stunning end to the three-time World Player of the Year’s career in a game marred by the diving, cheating and time wasting, mostly from the Italians, that has been a common theme throughout the finals.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Gennaro Gattuso said afterward.

The French, though, were not above such skulduggery and were the first to benefit from these dark arts when Florent Malouda hoodwinked the referee into thinking Materazzi had clattered into the forward when, in fact, he had held himself back.

The con worked, though, and the penalty was awarded on seven minutes.

Zidane’s casual approach nearly backfired when his dinked spot-kick came off the bar, but it bounced clearly behind the line before rebounding back onto the bar again and Buffon was beaten by an opposition player for the first time in the tournament.

The French captain, who scored twice with his head in Les Bleus’ 1998 triumph, became only the fourth player after Brazilians Vava and Pele, and England’s 1966 hat trick hero Geoff Hurst, to score three times in World Cup finals.

Materazzi’s day nearly got worse before it got better when he headed the ball centimeters past Buffon’s post after an innocuous cross from the right, but the ex-Everton star made amends — for the foul that never was — with a towering header to draw Italy level.

Andrea Pirlo swung in a corner from the right, and Materazzi outjumped the equally tall Patrick Vieira to direct the ball past Barthez before raising his heavily tattooed right arm in triumph.

Vieira — despite coming out second best to Materazzi — was having the biggest influence on the game. Gattuso and Mauro Camoranesi both came out of tussles with the Juventus star chastened.

Perhaps he was proving a point to his Italian League contemporaries.

Was this the same man who had performed so poorly for Juve in his debut season?

Indeed it was.

Henry, too, who also had a miserable time of it in Italy before his metamorphosis into the world’s best forward, was playing like he had a point to prove. Twice Italians bounced off him as he ran at the defense, his determination putting steel in his legs.

The quietest of the bunch was Zidane. A few delightful touches here and there, but the 34-year-old seemed to be pacing himself.

His most telling contribution to the night’s proceedings would come later.

Another Pirlo corner from the right nearly brought Italy’s second goal on 36 minutes but a header from Luca Toni, after he easily outclimbed Lilian Thuram, hit the bar.

The dynamic Vieira soon succumbed to a hamstring injury in the second period, and with his departure, the game fell a little flat.

Sporadic chants of “Allez Les Bleus” failed to ignite the French.

Soon it was the Italian fans’ turn to find their voice.

After Pirlo’s curling free-kick just flashed wide of Barthez’s right-hand post chants of “Italia, Italia” filled the stadium for the first time. They sensed something others couldn’t see because the game was still so evenly balanced.

In the European Championship final of 2000, Italy had led France until injury time, when France equalized and then scored a golden-goal winner. This time, though, a goal seemed unlikely and extra time an inevitability.

France started the brighter of the two in the extra 30 minutes.

Franck Ribery went close and then Zidane’s powerful header was miraculously tipped over by Buffon.

Henry was then substituted for Sylvain Wiltord before Zidane’s final — and career — ended prematurely amid astonishing scenes, but with the Italians dead on their feet, soccer’s greatest spectacle was destined for penalty kicks for only the second time in its history.

It wouldn’t have been what Lippi would have wanted. The Italians lost to Brazil in the 1994 World Cup final on penalties and had lost all three of their previous shootouts.

This time, though, they stayed perfect in front of the 1 billion-plus television audience around the world, and with Grosso’s firm penalty the World Cup was theirs for the fourth time after triumphs in 1934, ’38 and ’82.