CBC Sports World Cup 2006
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Italy wins World Cup

Last Updated Sun Jul 9 18:26:10 EDT 2006

Italian players celebrate as Fabio Cannavaro lifts the World Cup trophy aloft following Italy's victory over France on Sunday. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Three tension-filled hours, two great teams, one world champion: Italy.

Fabio Grosso scored the winning goal in a penalty shootout as Italy defeated France in Sunday's World Cup final from Berlin to claim its fourth world title.

The teams battled to a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time. France's David Trezeguet was the only player who missed in the shootout, his effort on goal smacking across the crossbar. With Italy sitting on a 4-3 lead, Grosso sealed the victory with his second goal of the tournament.

"It's incredibly emotional, words cannot hardly describe it," Grosso said. "Maybe we still don't realize what we have achieved. We really wanted to win and in the end we made it."

France played the final 10 minutes of extra time a man short after Zinedine Zidane, who is retiring after the World Cup, drew a red card for head-butting Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest.

"It's regrettable. We regret it, he regrets it," French coach Raymond Domenech said. "Zidane being sent off changed everything. Even in extra time, the Italian team was waiting for only one thing, and that was penalties."

Sunday's game was only the second in World Cup history decided by a shootout. Brazil beat Italy 3-2 on penalties in 1994 in the United States.

"The strength of this squad is that we have always been very sincere with each other and all worked together for this one objective," midfielder Mauro Camoranesi said. "Maybe we have not been the prettiest, but we were 11 men on the field."

Milan's La Scala and the Palais Garnier in Paris, two of the most famous theatres in the world, could not have staged a more lavish drama than the one produced at Berlin's Olympic Stadium.

Sunday's final was pure theatre, an enthralling and entertaining play featuring a rich and colourful tapestry of song and dance (from the 70,000 fans jammed inside the stadium) and art and spectacle (from the players).

Both sides played stylish and cultured soccer with equal parts defensive acumen and attacking panache and put on a fantastic display for the live spectators and the more than one billion television viewers tuned in around the world.

The cast of characters were many — Thierry Henry, Francesco Totti, Patrick Vieira, Gianluigi Buffon — but in the end, the spotlight shone brightly on just one man: Fabio Grosso.

"I've won many championships," coach Italian Marcello Lippi said, "but a joy so big I have never felt."

Rising above scandal

That the Italians even advanced to the finals speaks to the quality of their character, especially in light of what's going on back home.

A sports tribunal in Rome is currently investigating allegations of a match-fixing scheme in Serie A (Italy's first division) for the past two seasons and is expected to hand down a decision sometime this week.

The pall of the match-fixing scandal has been hanging over the Italy for two months now, with four of the most storied Italian clubs — Juventus, Fiorentina, Lazio and AC Milan — facing relegation to Italy's lower leagues. Many of the Italians players' pro careers are teetering in the balance.

At the same time Gianluca Pessotto, a former national team member, lies on his deathbed in an Italian hospital. Pessotto jumped (some say he fell) from the roof of the Juventus headquarters in Turin with a rosary clutched in one hand, leading many to believe that his fall from the roof was a suicide attempt.

But neither the scandal nor the thought of a former colleague desperately fighting for his life could distract the Azzurri on Sunday.

"If the scandal hadn't happened I think we wouldn't have won the World Cup," midfielder Gennaro Gattuso said. "It has given us more strength."

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

"The players have unlimited heart, character and personality," he added. "We are very happy."

There was early concern for France when Henry crumbled to the ground after running into Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro. The star striker looked groggy and came off the field to receive medical treatment for several minutes before returning.

France takes early lead

France took the lead in the seventh minute from a penalty spot after Florent Malouda went down inside the Italian penalty area. The call was somewhat controversial as replays showed Materazzi barely made contact with the Frenchman.

No matter, though, as Zidane stepped up to the spot and clipped his effort off the crossbar and just over the goal line.

The Italians were staggered and looked shaky after trailing for the first time in the tournament. They slowly gained control of the match and netted the equalizer in the 19th minute.

Andrea Pirlo delivered an exquisite corner kick into the middle of the penalty area and Materazzi majestically rose through the air to drive a powerful header past sprawling French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez.

Revitalized, the Italians took charge by pouring down the wings in search of another goal. Italy enjoyed the majority of possession and dictated the pace for the rest of the first half. The French mounted an attack, led by Henry and Zidane, but were continually snuffed out by Cannavaro and a sea of Italian defenders.

Italy continued to press and nearly took a 2-1 lead in the 35th minute when Luca Toni's header off a Pirlo corner kick cannoned off the crossbar.

France came to life at the start of the second half and wrestled control of the game away from Italy. The vaunted Italian defence looked uncertain as Henry, Malouda and Franck Ribery probed, prodded and plundered its way into Italy's penalty area. Only a lack of finishing prevented the French from regaining the lead.

Malouda was getting the better of the Italian defenders and appeared to have earned another penalty when he was brought down by Gianluca Zambrotta, but the Argentine referee waived play on.

Shortly after making a double-substitution (Vincenzo Iaquinta and Daniele De Rossi replacing Simone Perrotta and Totti), the Italians appeared to have scored on a Toni header but it was negated on an offside call by the assistant referee.

Italian defence holds firm

France marched right back down the field and forced a brilliant save out of Buffon who palmed away Henry's stinging shot. The French continued to pour on the pressure in the final 15 minutes and swarmed the Italian goal in numbers, but couldn't find a way past the steely and resolute Italian defence.

The French picked up where they left off and pinned the Italians back in their end of the field at the start of extra time. While France valiantly pressed forward in attack, Italy sat back in defence and soaked up the pressure.

Ribery nearly scored when his low, driving shot glided past a diving Buffon and whispered past the far post. Minutes later, Buffon made a fantastic one-handed save off a Zidane header, tipping the ball over the crossbar to deny the Frenchman.

France lost its cool in the second extra-time period when Zidane inexplicably head-butted Materazzi in the chest after exchanging words with the Italian.

After much debate and protests from the Italians, the Argentine referee showed Zidane a red card, a disgraceful end to the Frenchman's career (the midfielder previously announced he planned to retire at the end of the World Cup) and France was reduced to 10 men.

Neither team showed much attacking invention in the final 10 minutes, as they seemed content to decide the matter via penalty shootout.

"We had fear of the penalties," Gattuso said, aware that Italy lost the only other final decided in a shootout, to Brazil in 1994. "Our history was not great, so that was the fear."

Aside from Grosso, Pirlo, Materazzi, De Rossi and Alessandro Del Piero scored for Italy. Sylvain Wiltord, Eric Abidal and Willy Sagnol scored for France.

IMPACT PLAYERS

Italy: Fabio Cannavaro — Another stellar performance by the Italian defender who was, without question, the best player in the tournament.

France: Florent Malouda — The French winger asked serious questions of the Italian defence with his speed and insightful play.


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