Top 10 iconic moments in International Football: No. 4
We now move into the top four of our ‘Ten Iconic Moments in International Football“. At number four is:
The 2006 FIFA World Cup catalogued the rise of African football. Both Ghana and Angola qualified for the World Cup for the first time, and since then, African footballers and the nations they come from have continued to impress.
Several records were also either broken or equalled.
The ‘Battle of Nuremberg’ between the Netherlands and Portugal in the Round of 16 saw a surprising four red and a whopping sixteen yellow cards issued by Russian referee Valentin Ivanov, setting the record for the most number of cards ever issued in a FIFA tournament.
Brazilian striker Ronaldo broke the record of Gerd ‘Der Bomber’ Muller’s World Cup goal tally, scoring his 15th goal in the World Cup against Ghana and becoming only the second player to score in three separate World Cups after Juergen Klinsmann.
But Zinedine Zidane would break records of his own going into the final against Italy.
France had finished second in their group behind the Swiss and had made it through to the final with a string of impressive wins against Spain (3-1), Brazil and Portugal (both 0-1) in which Zidane had played a key part.
Going in to the final, Zizou had scored two very crucial goals (against Spain and Portugal) and had assisted Thierry Henry‘s winner against Brazil. Having already announced to the world his decision to retire from all forms of football after the showpiece tournament in Germany, the World Cup Final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin was to be his swansong.
Italy had conceded just one goal coming into the final – an own goal against the United States. With no opposition breaching the Italian rearguard, they came to the final following a controversial win against Australia, a stroll past Ukraine and an extra time victory over an emotional Germany.
In Berlin, both teams had scored inside the first 20 minutes. In a game that seemed to centre around Zidane and Marco Materazzi, it was the Italian centre-back who conceded the penalty which Zidane delicately chipped past Gianluigi Buffon to give Les Bleus the lead, before the 6’4″ defender powered home an equaliser from a corner to draw the Italians level.
With neither side finding the back of the net for the rest of regulation time, the game went into extra time.
About ten minutes away from the penalty shootout, Zidane and Materazzi got into an altercation, with the Inter Milan man pulling the former Real Madrid midfielder’s shirt. What was exactly said at the time was unclear, but Zidane retaliated by head-butting Materazzi hard in the chest.
Although referee Horacio Elizondo did not see it at the time, a clutch of Italian players led by keeper Buffon ran to the linesman in protest. The fourth official, who had also seen it, informed Elizondo of the misdemeanour via his headset.
The Argentine had no choice but to send Zidane off. Leaving the pitch in tears, he flung his captain’s armband beside the podium on which the World Cup stood.
He would never lift it. Italy won the World Cup after beating France 5-3 on penalties, with David Trezeguet missing the crucial spot kick for the French.
Zinedine Zidane stuck to his decision of retiring from all forms of the game. He was slapped with a three-game suspension, which was then commuted to working with underprivileged kids under FIFA’s youth development schemes. He refused to apologise for headbutting Materazzi, saying he would rather die than build bridges with the Italian. But he also admitted that he would not have been able to live with himself had he stayed on to help France win the game.
Materazzi was handed a two-match ban. But the scandal that surrounded him was far greater than the one that had engulfed the Frenchman. Three British tabloids, The Sun, The Star and The Times all reportedly employed lip readers to decipher what exactly it was he had told Zidane on the pitch, finally claiming he had called him the “son of a terrorist whore”.
The Sun and The Star both later apologised to the defender in public and he won libel damages against all three newspapers. More than a year after the incident had occurred, Materazzi finally revealed what he had told Zidane on that day:
I prefer the whore that is your sister
At the time of the incident, Materazzi was not aware Zidane even had a sister, and Zidane’s response to his shirt being tugged was in an amusing light:
If you want my shirt, I will give it to you after the match
Materazzi categorically said he did not abuse Zidane’s mother. Speaking to the press who quizzed him about the incident, he said:
I didn’t talk about his mother, either. I lost my mother when I was fifteen, and even now I still get emotional talking about it.
Referee Horacio Elizondo decided to quit international officiating after the final as a result of what had transpired between the two players.
In retrospect, the two-match ban given to Materazzi was fortuitous for him. He missed Italy’s opening Euro 2008 qualifiers, one of which was against France in Paris.