Friday, June 04, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: France-Italy (2006)

France and Italy are two of the most powerful footballing nations in the world. With Italy having a long history of dominating the match, France had only won its first world title in 1998, and remained at the top of the world game since then. Both teams had played many times, also in the World Cups: in 1938 in a legendary quarter-final, in 1986 in the last-16, and in 1998 when France had defeated the Italians in the quarter-final on the way to win their first world cup title. But not only had they faced one another in the world stage: in the 2000 European championship final France had defeated Italy 2-1 in extra time in a dramatic match. So the two team knew each other well before facing one another in the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin.
France had entered the tournament looking rather weak, fighting hard to qualify from an apparently easy group, and with an ageing team. The star of the team, Zinedine Zidane from Real Madrid, three time FIFA World Player of the year (1998, 2000, 2003), had retired from the national team in 2004, but when things were going badly for the French, he was asked to return, and he captained France to the World Cup. Nevertheless, things had still not looked good for France: they had not played well, and had opened with ties against Switzerland and South Corea, before a 2-0 victory against Togo had put them through to the last-16 against Spain. But here the French veterans woke up: facing the fancied Spaniards they won 3-1, giving the French renewed energy. In the quarterfinal France outplayed the defending world champions of Brazil, winning 1-0, and in the semifinal they had defeated Portugal 1-0 to make it to their second World Cup final ever.
Italy, coached by Marcelo Lippi, had not entered the tournament as outright favourites for the title, but with a very strong and disciplined team: Defensively the team was outstanding with for instance Fabio Cannavaro and Marco Materazzi from Inter, and Juventus’ Gianlucca Zambrotta. In midfield they had the elegant Francesco Totti from AS Roma, and the great Alessandro Del Piero from Juventus.
In the first round Italy had won their group ahead of Ghana, the Czech Republic and USA. In the last-16 they had played a very close match with Australia whom they only managed to defeat 1-0 on a late penalty kick. In the quarterfinals Italy defeated Ukraine 3-0, and in the semifinals they played a great match against the popular German hosts, whom they defeated 2-0 on two late goals in extra time.
While Italy had looked the strongest, France had grown the most during the tournament, and considering their previous history, it looked to become a final full of drama.
France started the game best: after only six minutes the Olympique Lyon winger Florent Malouda was brought down inside the Italian penalty area by Marco Materazzi, and Zinedine Zidane brought France ahead 1-0 on the following penalty. Zinedine Zidane thus became the only fourth player ever to score in two different World Cup finals. The goal nevertheless did not discourage the Italians: the AC Milan midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso started taking over the midfield, and only 19 minutes into the match the growing Italian dominance led to a goal: Marco Matterazzi scored on a header after an Andrea Pirlo corner kick.
The score being 1-1, the game continued back and forth, with no team really dominating, although Italy had the biggest chances on corner kicks from Andrea Pirlo, one on which Luca Toni hit the crossbar.
In the second half both teams went for the victory: both Luca Toni and Thierry Henry had good chances, but were unable to capitalize, and the match ended 1-1, and had to go into extra time.
France seemed more energized in the extra time, and both Frank Ribery and Zinedine Zidane had good chances. However, the most dramatic and memorable moment of the final (and perhaps of the entire tournament) came five minutes into the second half of extra time: with the ball not nearby, Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi seemed to be discussing something, when Zinedine Zidane suddenly turned around and headbutted Matterazzi on the chest. There was no doubt from the Argentinian referee Elizondo who correctly gave Zinedine Zidane a red card.
This was Zinedine Zidane’s last match in a World Cup and for France, ending a great career in disgrace. However, he remains popular as his aggression was seen as a response to Matterazzi’s provocations, although this meant a significant weakening of his team, and an thoughtless act in front of the whole world.
The match was to be only the second World Cup final ever to be decided on penalty kicks, and Italy had been the losing side on the previous one in 1994. But this time things went better for Italy: all the Italian players scored, while Juventus’ French player, David Trezeguet, hit the crossbar for France.
Italy had won their 4th World Cup, becoming the second most winning nation ever after Brazil.

Match Stats:
  • 9th July, 2006 Olympia Stadium, Berlin
  • Attendance: 69,000
  • Referee: Horacio Elizondo (Argentina)
Italy-France 1-1 (After Extra Time)
Goals:0-1 Zidane (7) (pen)1-1 Materazzi (19)

Penalty kicks:

Italy-France 5-3
  • 1-0 Pirlo
  • 1-1 Wiltord
  • 2-1 Materazzi
  • Trezeguet missed for France
  • 3-1 De Rossi
  • 3-2 Abidal
  • 4-2 Del Piero
  • 4-3 Sagnol
  • 5-3 Grosso
Italy: Buffon, Cannavaro, Grosso, Materazzi, Gattuso, Pirlo, Camoranesi (Del Piero), Totti (De Rossi), Zambrotta, Perrota (Iaquinta), Toni
France: Barthez, Abidal, Vieira (Diarra), Thuram, Sagnol, Ribery (Trezeguet), Galas, Makalele, Malouda, Zidane (RC, 111), Henry (Wiltord)

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