Italy won the World Cup in a dramatic final, which would be remembered as much for the Azzurri claiming the coveted trophy after 24 years as much for Zinedine Zidane, who bade farewell to football with the blot of a red card on Sunday night soon after producing some beautiful moments.
He was the star of the tournament. But the honour he had got from the whole world was lost in that one moment of madness in the 111th minute when he head-butted Materazzi. True, the Italians provoked the talismanic French magician, but his anger and frustration got the better of his coolness and composure, which had helped France take the lead.
It was an inexplicable fall from grace. The stage was perfectly set for him to leave and live the rest of his life on the same pedestal as Pele and Maradona, even if he ended up on the losing side.
The Zidane incident ultimately led to France’s defeat. Had he not been sent off, he obviously would have taken one of the penalties. His ‘substitute’ David Trezeguet was the one who missed out, giving Italy the winning edge.
The match may not have reached the height of the Italy-Germany semi-final, which was, to me, the real ‘final’. But it had its own sentiments with Zidane playing his last international match and the Azzurri, rocked by match-fixing scam back home, desperate to restore their battered image.
France ' the oldest team of this World Cup ' must have realised the urgency of settling the issue within regulation time. So they changed gears as Zidane put on the beautiful hat. But alas, the beast in him had the last laugh.
The Italian rearguard stood up to the challenge with steel and character, which helped them come thus far. Even if it was occasionally breached, Buffon ensured with the thickness of his gloves that status quo was maintained.
The first half could be captured in images like Cannavaro’s body-checking of Henry ' who left the field looking dazed and returned after a few minutes ' Zidane’s brilliantly-taken penalty and Materrazi’s atonement in heading home the Italian equaliser.
There were too many stoppages and some unnecessary fouls in the early minutes. One such foul led to the seventh-minute penalty when Malouda was brought down in an apparently harmless challenge by Materrazi. But card-happy Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo pointed to the spot and Zidane once again showed how cool he could be under pressure.
Instead of shooting the ball powerfully ' like he did to get the winner against Portugal ' he chipped it this time, taking Buffon completely by surprise. The ball bounced behind the goalline before flying back into the penalty area.
That early goal sent the Azzurri into a trance, but they didn’t take long in regaining composure. Lippi’s men spread the game to both wings and the French eventually caved in to the relentless pressure when Materazzi rectified his mistake in grand style.
He rose above Vieira to head in an Andrea Pirlo corner so powerfully that Barthez didn’t have time to move. The susceptibility of the French defence to set-pieces was once again exposed when a Luca Toni header, off another Pirlo corner, hit the bar.
Pirlo and Gattuso are midfielders with different styles. Pirlo is attack-minded and links up with different units from time to time, while Gattuso is a defensive medio. The two complemented each other perfectly and dealt with any threat before it actually reached the Cannavaros.