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Italy gets its kicks

- 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.

The lone goal for France came on a penalty kick by Zidane in the seventh minute, the only one scored by an Italian opponent in seven games other than an own-goal against to the United States.

Zidane's kick was set up when Florent Malouda ran into the box on the right flank and was side-swiped by Materazzi. The referee pointed to the 12-yard spot. Zidane took the kick and softly chipped the ball over Buffon, who dove the wrong way. The ball hit the upright and bounced down and out of the goal, but replays clearly showed that the ball crossed the line.

It was Zidane's third goal in the finals and his second from the penalty spot.

It didn't take long for Materazzi to make up for his error. Twelve minutes later, the defender rose high to beat midfielder Patrick Vieira and head in Pirlo's delightful, curling corner kick from seven yards out.

Zidane nearly gave France the win near the end of the first extra time period. Zidane had a free header on a cross from Willy Sagnol, but Buffon made a brilliant save that prevented a storybook ending to the career of the 34-year-old French ace.

Instead, the end came in a dramatic scene with 10 minutes left.

Zidane and Materazzi exchanged words. Zidane walked up the field and away from Materazzi, then suddenly turned and gave him a hard head-butt to the chest that sent the defender flying.

Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo didn't see the butt, and Buffon requested Elizondo to seek help. Elizondo asked his assistant on the sideline, then pulled out the red card and ejected Zidane from the field.

French fans were livid, whistling every time the Italians touched the ball.

"Zidane being sent off changed everything," Domenech said. "Even in extra time the Italian team was waiting for only one thing, and that was penalties."

Domenech said he did not know what the players said to each other or what prompted Zidane's head-butt.

Zidane walked off the field with his head bowed, passing but not looking at Domenech. He entered the tunnel, walking past the World Cup trophy that he helped France win in 1998 and came so close to winning again yesterday.

As the clock ticked down in regulation time, France, which outshot Italy 13-5, looked the most aggressive, but Italy held firm.

"I have to say thanks to the players," Italian coach Marcelo Lippi said. "This is the most satisfying moment of my life."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.