No Ifs Or Butts
Italy 1-1 France (Italy win 5-3 on Penalties)
Oh, Zizou. What a stupid, stupid thing to do. Into extra-time, and staring down the barrel of a penalty shoot-out. Having already lost Vieira and Henry to substitutes, we can only speculate over what was going through his mind, and it’s fair to say that his moment of impetuous insanity cost France the World Cup. What the hell dic Materazzi say to him, though? It must have been the best insult ever. He has got form for losing his rag, though – he got himself sent off at France 98 for stamping. One would have expected him to have developed a little more maturity since then, though.
Up until then, it looked like it was going to be his night. His early penalty, chipped nonchalantly off the underside of the crossbar as Buffon dived the other way, was yet further proof of his arrogant genius. There was no great debate over the fact Materazzi’s tackle was a foul – but the indication was certainly there that this was to be a night on which Materazzi would prove to be the central figure. His equalizer, a perfect header from a terrifc corner (the French struggled with Italian set-pieces throughout), was no less than he deserved. He had picked himself up, dusted himself down and was, for me, the man of the match.
France had looked the stronger of the two teams, but things started to unravel for them in the second half. Vieira went off with what looked like a thigh strain, but when Henry went off as well, it became clearer and clearer that this perhaps wouldn’t be their night after all. Before Zidane went off, he brought a brilliant one-handed save out of Buffon, but then the red mist descended, and everything changed. Curiously, given their record in penalty shootouts, the Italians didn’t seem to want to take advantage of this, and retreated further and further back into their own half.
Anyone that suspected that the Italians might buckle again under the pressure of another penalty shootout was to be mistaken. The Italians comfortably put away all of their spot kicks with a bit to spare. Only David Trezeguet missed, and even that was by the slimmest of margins. Surely, though, he will be forgiven. The blame for France’s defeat ultimately lays with Zidane.
In a World Cup without an outstanding team, Italy deserved to win. Brilliantly organised at the back, and with goals coming from all over the pitch, they won a difficult group and overcame the hosts en route to the final. Having come into the tournament on their best run of form in over sixty years, they continued in their stride. Worthy winners indeed. For the French, though, nothing but regret. This is the last we’ll see of the “golden generation” of 1998, and whether they have many top quality replacements coming through is open to question. The majority of their players deserved better than the ending that they got tonight, but one didn’t -and that the World Cup went to Italy is something for which, I guess, we should all be kind of grateful.