Monday, July 10, 2006

"A Star Falters, France Fades, Italy Rejoices" - New York Times

Jere Longman, New York Times --

What could have been a glorious coronation of the soccer career of the French captain Zinédine Zidane became a shameful departure Sunday when he was ejected from the World Cup final for committing an astonishing act of unsportsmanlike behavior.
Italy won its fourth World Cup title, by 5-3 in a penalty-kick shootout, after the score remained 1-1 through overtime. But the match is certain to be remembered for Zidane's head-butting the Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest after the two exchanged words in the 109th minute.
With that moment of recklessness during the final game of a career that made him, in the eyes of many, the greatest soccer player of the past 20 years, Zidane, 34, might have cost his team its second World Cup title in eight years. He might have also undermined his reputation for cleverness and flair and decency.
Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants, is known for his discretion and shyness in France as well as for his soccer brilliance. His two goals in the victorious final of the 1998 World Cup against Brazil struck a blow for multiculturalism and became a rebuke of anti-immigration sentiment in France. But he has had his irresponsible moments on the field.
"Zidane being sent off was the key element of the game," said France's coach, Raymond Domenech. "Especially in extra time — the Italian team was obviously waiting for a penalty shootout." Domenech said he had not seen the play from the bench.
"But if Zidane did what they are saying, then the players regret it and I'm sure Zidane himself regrets it," he said. "The man of the match is Materazzi, because he scored and he sent off Zidane. I think this is sad, very sad, for him to end his career like this. I would have preferred to have taken him out five minutes earlier so that the crowd could have applauded him."
In the seventh minute, Zidane put France ahead, 1-0, on a penalty kick, becoming only the fourth player to score in two World Cup finals. But he apparently grew frustrated after narrowly missing a goal on a header in overtime and at being roughed up by Italy's rugged defense. He frequently complained to the referee but was told to play on.
In the 109th minute, Materazzi and Zidane seemed to tangle inconsequentially for position, with Materazzi having his arm on Zidane or grabbing him slightly. As the two walked upfield, the players spoke to each other. Then Zidane turned around, approached Materazzi and head-butted him in the sternum.
The two had been at the center of two of the game's critical plays. It was Materazzi's clipping of midfielder Florent Malouda in the penalty area that led to Zidane's penalty kick in the opening minutes. And it was Materazzi, known primarily as a defensive enforcer, who tied the score, 1-1, in the 19th minute with a header off a corner kick.
In overtime, the two became involved again, this time with Zidane suddenly angry and boiling out of control.
Zidane's head butt left Materazzi collapsed on the field. Italy protested vehemently, and a delay and some confusion followed. Marcello Lippi, the Italian coach, said that officials off the field watched a television replay before a decision was rendered. Unlike the National Football League, soccer does not use replay to adjudicate disputed plays. Observers believed this was the first time a video review had been used.