Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sportszilla's World Cup Review - The Final
By Imtiaz Mussa

No buildup for this one. It is the biggest match of the year.

Italy vs. France
Raymond Domenech never named an unchanged side before the tournament but the stargazer has clearly seen something in the sky in Germany as he has now stuck with the same XI throughout the knockout phase. Italy also named the same side that beat Germany in the semi-finals.

France got the early advantage thanks to their captain. Zidane casually chipped a penalty in off the crossbar after Florent Malouda had won the spot-kick with a theatrical fall inside the Italy penalty box. But Italy recovered well from their unfortunate start and the industrious Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso quickly began to set the tempo of the game. Through Pirlo's dead-ball delivery, they were soon on level terms. The AC Milan midfield maestro whipped over a corner from the right and Materazzi thumped a header past Fabien Barthez. France failed to learn their lesson. Moments later Materazzi saw another header cleared off the line by Lilian Thuram before Luca Toni nodded onto the bar, both efforts from Pirlo corners.

Thierry Henry had had a quiet first half, but he burst into life after the break with two turbo-charged runs that struck fear into the heart of the Italian defense. It was a more open final than many had predicted and both teams were attacking with gusto, though Italy came within a whisker of taking the lead when Toni was adjudged offside after heading in a Pirlo free-kick. At the other end Henry was causing problems with his pace and Gianluigi Buffon had to be alert to parry away a snap-shot from the Arsenal striker.

As it went into extra-time, France had started to dominate proceedings. Malouda was only kept out by a last-ditch Fabio Cannavaro tackle before Franck Ribery poked agonisingly wide and Buffon tipped Zidane's header over. It was Zidane's last meaningful contribution to the French cause as with 10 minutes left of extra-time, his professional career ended in shameful circumstances. He became involved in a dispute with Materazzi and, inexplicably, headbutted the Italian in the chest. After the assistant referee informed referee Horacio Elizondo of the incident, the Argentine was left with no choice but to send Zidane off. His team-mates looked shell-shocked, but they held on to force penalties for only the second time in a World Cup final after Italy lost to Brazil in 1994.

The first spot-kick of the night goes to Andrea Pirlo. He takes a short run up and lifts it down the middle with Fabien Barthez diving right to score.
France’s Sylvain Wiltord places it perfectly powering into the net and scores with the keeper going the other way.
Defender Marco Materazzi is next to take the long walk forward. He shoots low and to the right and scores.
Juventus v Juventus. David Trezeguet sends Gianluigi Buffon the wrong way but he misses as his effort cannons off the bar.
Daniele De Rossi goes for power and scores to give Italy a decisive advantage.
He doesn't look too confident but Eric Abidal slots easily and scores for France.
It's a long run-up for Alessandro Del Piero and the substitute smacks it beyond Fabien Barthez and scores.
Willy Sagnol must bang in it in for France. He scores to keep the shoot-out and tournament alive.
Fabio Grosso steps up and scores to win the World Cup.

Man of the Match: Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Totti disappeared today but Pirlo stepped up and was exceptionally dangerous on set pieces and he placed the ball perfectly. He got the Azzurri off to a good start in the shootout by scoring. The 27 year old has made a name for himself.

General Thoughts: Italy
The memories of 1994 are officially gone as Italy has their fourth World Cup title. This team did it with some of the best defending ever seen in the World Cup. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was tremendous but captain and chief center-back Fabio Cannavaro was even better as he also helped ignite the offense at times to open up scoring opportunities. Give credit to manager Marcelo Lippi who did a tremendous job picking the lineup for each game and putting his players in a position to succeed. I thought that the scandal going on in Italy involving four major clubs would be a major burden but they forgot all about that once they stepped on the pitch.

General Thoughts: France
The world is still shocked. No one can believe that Zidane was sent off in extra time. There is no doubt he deserved to be sent off for his action but why Zidane, why? This is your last game as a professional and now the last memory anyone will have is of him walking past the World Cup trophy and into the tunnel. Losing Vieira to injury hurt but watching Henry having to be subbed off before it got to penalties was even worse. France went into the shootout without their top two penalty takers. But France deserves full marks for a great run. No one thought they would go this far but thanks to Zidane, they had one run left in them.

Italy: Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Materazzi, Grosso, Camoranesi (Del Piero 86), Pirlo, Gattuso, Perrotta (Iaquinta 61), Totti (De Rossi 61), Toni.
Subs Not Used: Amelia, Barone, Barzagli, Gilardino, Inzaghi, Nesta, Oddo, Peruzzi, Zaccardo

Booked: Zambrotta

Goals: Materazzi 19

France: Barthez, Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal, Ribery (Trezeguet 100), Vieira (Diarra 56), Makelele, Zidane, Malouda, Henry (Wiltord 107).
Subs Not Used: Boumsong, Chimbonda, Coupet, Dhorasoo, Givet, Govou, Landreau, Silvestre

Sent Off: Zidane (110)

Booked: Sagnol, Diarra, Malouda.

Goals: Zidane 7 pen

Italy win 5-3 on penalties

Att: 69,000

Ref: Horacio Marcelo Elizondo (Argentina)


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