| Zidane walks past the Cup after being red-carded. (AP)
Berlin, July 9: The last game of the great Zinedine Zidane’s career ended in disaster here tonight when he was sent off as France was beaten by the ultimate World Cup final cruelty of penalties.
Zidane, who had put France ahead from a “normal” penalty in the seventh minute of the game, was dismissed by Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo on a linesman’s evidence.
The French captain had head-butted Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest in a clash off the ball in the 19th minute of extra-time.
France, who had already substituted Thierry Henry, thus missed their two finest penalty exponents for the shootout which the Italians had earned with a 19th-minute equaliser from the same Materazzi.
All players in the shootout hit the target with the sole tragic exception of French striker David Trezeguet.
Minutes later Fabio Grosso rasped home Italy’s fifth penalty and after 12 years, it claimed a fourth World Cup and righted the sad memory of a shootout defeat by Brazil in Pasadena in 1994.
However, the Italians can draw little satisfaction from the showdown in Berlin’s historic Olympic Stadium. Achievement was all, the manner was eminently forgettable; this was a scruffy little match between two teams who offered only the tactical shapes and shifts to cancel each other out and who lacked the nerve for the grand occasion.
No wonder disenchanted German fans broke occasionally into impatient chants of “Deutschland! Deutschland!”
Italian football has something to smile about but for only a few brief moments. Its heroes now go home to face uncomfortable music as the trial ends of four major clubs and two dozen officials accused of manipulating not merely matches but entire domestic championships.
That the match went to penalties was no surprise. In their previous six games Italy had snaffled only 11 goals and France a mere eight.
Henry was the first victim of the physicality which punctuated the final, being knocked semi-conscious in a first-minute collision with Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro ' his 100th appearance for the Azzurri.
Italy’s steely approach was again in evidence minutes later when Gianluca Zambrotta was shown a yellow card for flooring Patrick Vieira deep in French territory. The foul proved counter-productive since France, from the free kick, went downfield and opened the scoring on seven minutes.
Materazzi ' by turn scapegoat and hero ' tripped Florent Malouda, galloping into the penalty box, and Zidane chipped an outrageously cheeky penalty to Gigi Buffon’s left as the keeper dived right. Zidane was a touch fortunate: the ball clipped the underside of the bar and bounced down just behind the goal-line.
Such an early strike caught Italy in unfamiliar territory. It was only the second goal it had conceded in the finals and the first time it had fallen behind.
Not for long. It levelled in the 19th minute.
Argentine-born Mauro Camoranesi forced a corner, Andrea Pirlo swung it to the far post and Materazzi ' righting his earlier wrong ' rose above a surprised Vieira to head home.
France brought more movement, spirit and creativity to the second half. But Franck Ribery shot high over the bar after a Zidane corner was half-cleared and Henry had an angled drive magnificently blocked by Buffon. That meant extra time and France continued to make the running until Zidane’s expulsion.
Sadly for Zidane, he reached the end of his particular road before the rest of his team-mates.