- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

BERLIN — Great games are littered with magical moments and acts of madness.

The 18th World Cup final provided both: 120 minutes of thrilling, end-to-end soccer; a dramatic, wild end to the career of one of the game’s great stars; and a victory in a shootout for a team known for its futility in such situations.

Italy yesterday defeated France 5-3 in penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw to win its fourth World Cup.

“This squad showed great heart,” Italian midfielder Gennaro Gattuso said. “Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but we were hard to beat.”

The shootout, dramatic as it was, almost was overshadowed by the ejection of France’s Zinedine Zidane, a three-time world player of the year who played his final game.

Zidane scored his team’s only goal early in the game and did everything possible to crack the tough Italian defense. In the 110th minute, however, Zidane suddenly delivered a nasty head-butt to the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi, who fell to the ground.

“It’s regrettable. We regret it. He regrets it,” said Raymond Domenech, France’s coach.

French striker Thierry Henry already had been substituted out of the game, and with Zidane in the locker room, France’s two key penalty takers were off the field when the game ended in a tie.

Italy had lost in a shootout three previous times, including to Brazil in the World Cup final in 1994.

Yesterday, however, Andrea Pirlo, Materazzi, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Del Piero and Fabio Grosso all cooly converted their kicks for Italy. France made all of its kicks but one: Little-used David Trezeguet missed the second attempt for his team, smashing it against the crossbar.

The victory gave Italy its fourth World Cup championship and its first since 1982. Only Brazil, with five, has more.

Captain Fabio Cannavaro, playing in his 100th game for his country and the rock of Italy’s defense, held aloft the golden cup, a trophy Zidane passed on his way off the field and into the history books.

“Germany won the World Cup in Italy [1990], and now we have come here and won it,” Cannavaro said.

Getting past Cannavaro was the problem for the French all night.

Wave after wave of French attacks, led by Zidane and Henry, could not crack the Italian back line, led by Cannavaro. And behind Cannavaro was goalie Gianluigi Buffon, perhaps the best in the world.

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