Archive for July 10th, 2006

There is no doubt in my mind that Zinedine Zidane is a true master of the art of football. Few possess the sublime skills of an attacking midfielder and playmaker such as Zidane’s and it is no wonder for the past eight years since that momentous win in 1998 that the Algerian-born French star has been an important core player of the French international squad. He can be likened to a puppet master who is pulling the strings of play – creating as many chances in front to support the front strikers and doing as much to help at the back. He holds a vast influence over the French team by virtue of being a captain and is no doubt one of the world’s most respected and admired footballer in the world.

All that came crashing down to nothing following a moment of madness 17 minutes into extra time at Olympiastadion early this morning. After being held back in aerial challenge with Italian defender and goalscorer Marco Materazzi, Zidane looked displeased with Materazzi and made it felt by doing a most shameful and insane act. Being a world class footballer and a grown-up, Zidane really, really ought to have known better. Instead, he let his emotions take over him and he headbutted Materazzi in the chest, earning him a straight red card from the Argentinean referee Horacio Elizondo.

And with that, its curtains down for the man who had such an illustrious career in football. He could’ve gone out on a high but sadly, he has gone from hero of the 1998 World Cup finals where he scored two headed goals to the villain of the 2006 World Cup finals where he was sent off for his headbutt on Materazzi, thus costing the Les Bleus the precious World Cup title.

Indeed, he could’ve been the difference in the peanlty-shootout, had he played on. He was France’s master of the penalties and his name would definitely be the first of the five nominated to take the penalty, having already slotted home two penalty goals in this tournament. If he had stayed, and Thierry Henry wasn’t substitute, then David Trezeguet would not have been picked and therefore, would not have missed the lone penalty, the deciding factor that handed Italy the 2006 World Cup trophy.

Truly a sad, miserable and shameful exit for such a masterful footballer. No words could describe my disbelief when I saw on television his headbutt on Materazzi. What could’ve gone through his mind when decided do that? Like the commentators said, it was truly astounding that a man of such stature would have committed such a stupid, stupid schoolboy-like action. It was totally immature of him and unlike him.

It almost seemed like he had a “Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde” moment there. Nothing he said could have justified that shameful action and being the captain of the France team would surely have made it all even worst. When the team counted on him most to deliver, he has failed them majestically and shamefully. It seemed made Brazil’s 1-0 defeat orchestrated by Zidane just several days ago all seemed so far and so distant in memory.

And so, credit goes to Italy – whom I had secretly hoped to win despite putting my money on France as the favourites to win – for having nerves of steel to slot home all five penalties to confirm themselves as world champions of football in 2006. They must’ve sighed in great relief that there was no repeat of Roberto Baggio’s dreadful penalty-shootout miss in the 1994 World Cup finals against eventual champions Brazil. Each and every Italian player gave their 100% in the finals – it goes to show how badly they wanted to win this in light of the controversies and scandals their clubs has been embroiled in.

Captain Fabio Cannavaro and Materazzi were rock solid at the back and the latter was most unfortunate to have conceded a penalty dubiously awarded after seven minutes of playing time in the first half. Florent Malouda, in my opinion, seemed to have committed ‘simulation’ for Materazzi’s tackle had only made the slightest of contacts. Zidane stepped up to take the penalty and it’s 1-0 to France. If they thought that this was going to be their night, boy, were they in for a rude shock and disappointment.

Twelve minutes later, Materazzi made up for his error (even though I still think he was innocent!) with a fantastic bullet header from Andrea Pirlo’s corner kick that goalkeeper Fabian Barthez could not have any hope of reaching. It was a beautiful header and that was enough to send tremors throughout the entire French squad. They had looked lively in the opening ten minutes, but with Italy’s equaliser, Italy took control of the game for the entire first half, with the second half not as exciting as the first. But all the action was in the nail-biting extra time.

Overall, despite making it to the Finals when everyone had wrote them off, this is a tournament that they would have rather forget. I am quite sure now that Zidane must’ve wished he had just disappear away while his reputation was still intact. No hope for that now. Will he be vilified by the fickle-minded French media, who days ago hailed Zidane as France’s hope for a second World Cup win? What has he got to say about that stupid action of his? What will the world think of him now?

I could not stress how much this must’ve hurt him deep down inside. You could see the regret in his eyes moments after he had committed the error. There is no way he can make up for such a huge, costly mistake.

It’ll be interesting to see what the future now holds for the French team – with Barthez, Zidane, Thuram and Makelele all ending their international careers after this Finals match. What will be even more interesting is six weeks from now, both Italy and France will face one another again in what must be an emotional qualifying match for the Euro 2008. I’m already excited about it and will certainly be looking forward to that match!

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