09 July, 2006

Campioni: Italy 1 France 1 AET (Italy win 5-3 on penalties)

A Sunday evening in Berlin sees the culmination of the 2006 World Cup. Perennials Italy face the 1998 champions France, unfancied before the tournament but growing in strength with every game. Between them the two sides have conceded only three goals in the tournament so far, but having scored 16 neither could be accused of being overly defensive.

There is an early scare for France when Thierry Henry suffers a blow to the head with a minute gone. David Trezeguet is prepared as Henry leaves the field, but the Arsenal man is able to resume his duties. The drama continues when after five minutes Florent Malouda goes down in the box under a challenge from Marco Materazzi. The penalty is given and Zinedane Zidane steps up. He plays a casual chip which hits the underside of the bar and bounces down and out. The Italians claim no goal, but the ball clearly crossed the line and the goal stands.

The Italians, after looking nervy for the first few minutes, gradually find their feet. Andrea Pirlo plays a free kick into the box and Lilian Thuram has to clear with a diving header. It heralds the start of a good spell of possession for Italy. On 19 minutes Materazzi makes up for his earlier error when he lifts himself into the air to meet a corner, and heads it solidly into the back of the net.

It is a tense affair, and the match is as even as the scores suggest. Italy are shading it, now looking more confident in possession than their French counterparts, but both teams look good on the ball, passing it around smoothly. There are no real chances until 35 minutes have passed, when Luca Toni breaks into the box but is frozen out by the French defenders. The resultant corner comes to Toni but he heads it against the crossbar.

At the start of the second half France have their best chance since the penalty. Henry takes the ball to the touchline and pulls it back across the box, but Zambrotta is in the right place and puts it out. France are having their most threatening period yet. Malouda is brought down in the box again and ought to win another penalty, but the referee gives nothing. A minute later Malouda mirrors Henry's earlier move but this time the low cross slips by without any player being able to get to it.

There is a blow for France just afterwards, however, when the influential Patrick Vieira is substituted with an injury. Alou Diarra takes his place. France have lost an important player and Italy are able to recover their position. Toni has the ball in the net but the linesman's flag is raised and the goal does not count.

At the other end Henry makes Gianluigi Buffon work, forcing an excellent save, but France have lost their brief spark. The tension resumes and neither side look like making any sort of breakthrough. Pirlo comes close with a free kick, the ball curling just wide of the post, though Fabian Barthez looks to have it covered with an athletic dive.

With ten minutes to go Zidane falls awkwardly, injuring his shoulder, and for a moment it looks like his last exit from a football pitch will be made on a stretcher, but after a little treatment he is able to continue, to the relief of the French. They are spurred on and enjoy a strong spell, but the Italians remain solid in defence, with Gennaro Gattuso performing particularly well.

Alessandro Del Piero is brought on with 86 minutes played but he is unable to lift the Italians and the game drifts into extra time. After a slow start Franck Ribery narrowly misses and is immediately substituted, with Trezeguet coming on to give France a late boost in attack. Zidane nearly clinches it when he hits a powerful header but the ball is too close to Buffon who is able to push it over.

In the second period the French forward line is refreshed again when Henry is replaced by Sylvain Wiltord. A minute later there is a fracas. The referee doesn't seem to know what has happened as he tries to calm the situation, but television replays show that Zidane has headbutted Materazzi in the chest like a charging ram. When the referee eventually works out what has happened he has no further hesitation, and Zidane's career ends with a red card.

The atmosphere in the stadium is now explosive as the Italians attempt to take advantage of the situation with ten minutes remaining. They are unable to do so and the best chance falls to France, but Wiltord's shot is wayward.

For the second time the World Cup final will be decided by a penalty shootout. Italy were the losers last time this happened, and have never won a World Cup shootout, but with Zidane, Henry and Vieira all off the pitch they are surely the favourites.

Pirlo takes the first for Italy and scores, straight down the middle. Wiltord steps up and strikes it powerfully, again in the centre of the goal. Materazzi puts Italy's second away.

Trezeguet steps up next. He looks nervous and his penalty hits the bar and bounces down. Trezeguet pleads with the referee but the ball did not cross the line and the referee gives nothing. Daniele De Rossi and Eric Abidal make no mistake and Italy are 3-2 up with two penalties left for each team.

Del Piero scores next, leaving France no room for error. Willy Sagnol needs to score and plays an excellent penalty, but Fabio Grosso comes next knowing that his penalty can win the World Cup for Italy.

He scores. The penalty curse is lifted, Italy having scored five out of five to win the biggest prize of all. It has not been a vintage tournament thanks to some very negative play by too many of the teams, and with Zidane's dismissal it has ended on something of a sour note, but Italy have been one of the more entertaining teams and have been played well throughout. They are worthy winners and have ensured that the 2006 World Cup will be remembered for many years to come in Italy, at least.


Baz said...

My favourite part of the entire match was watching Cannavaro during the penalty shoot-out. While his team-mates punched the air and celebrated every successful spot kick he stood there impassive, arms folded. Until the last one went in and then he went mental.

David said...

Just a short note to thank Joe for all the effort he has put in to these World Cup reports over the last three weeks. And all without visiting Germany once.

Anonymous said...

Watched the game on Norton Street, which is the centre for Italians in Sydney. It was very odd being in the middle of a 15,000 person street party at 4 o'clock on a Monday morning


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