CAIRO: The 2006 World Cup will go down in the books as a tournament which features egregious mistakes by referees, unprecedented bookings, as well as solid defensive tactics which overshadowed most offense, allowing a number of defenders to shine.
The side that won the most coveted cup in the world of sports was in fact not the best when it came to offensive flow of soccer. Italy, however, proved to be the best of all regarding defense, as well as a solid goalkeeper; Italy conceded the least amount of goals in the tournament.
France and Italy entered the final on even grounds. In spite of mediocre performances during the early stages of the tournament, particularly France, both teams improved throughout the knockout stages. As the two teams featured solid defense, it was quite difficult to predict the winner. France, through their inspiring leader Zinedine Zidane, took the lead after just seven minutes through a questionable penalty-kick. Zidane converted the ball from the spot, chipping the ball which, had hit the cross bar but managed to just cross the line.
The goal had signaled the perfect start for the French team, which had wanted to score an early goal and then play stifling defense. The French started to settle into defense play, as they had in the last knock-out stages, but this time they couldn t prevent the Italian response. Materazzi, how had conceded the penalty, redeemed himself quickly, as he timed his jump perfectly to meet Andrea Pirlo s swerved corner-kick, heading the ball past French goalkeeper Fabian Barthez. The Italians looked very threatening from set pieces played by Andrea Pirlo.
As for the French, Zidane was the play-maker, with his accurate passes to Thierry Henry and Frank Ribery up front. Ten minutes from the interval, Luca Toni could have put the Italians in the lead, as his header met a swerve corner-kick by Andrea Pirlo, with the ball hitting the cross bar. In the second half, the French kept most of the possession. The Italians settled back with long balls sent to Italy s striker Luca Toni. With Patrick Vieira picking up a hamstring injury and getting substituted, many predicted that the Italians could take full control of the midfield.
Minutes later, Luca Toni scored, although the goal was disallowed, with replays showing that he was indeed offside. As the game was heading toward its end, both teams seemed to play cautiously; the game then moved into extra-time.
Ribery should have given France the lead, as his shot on the tips of 18-yard box just missed the target. Zidane had his last chance of the game, as he headed Willy Sagnol s perfect cross before Italy s keeper Buffon successfully tipped it over the cross bar.
Later came the moment that sparked a massive outcry, as Zinedine Zidane, the French Captain, head-butted Italy s defender Marco Materazzi, and received a red card for his actions. The reason behind the head-butt is still being discussed worldwide, with no one knowing exactly what Materazzi had said to inflame Zidane.
With France playing with 10-men, the Italians kept in the back and seemed to be pleased to head to a penalty-shoot out. With the introduction of strikers David Trezeguet and Sylvain Wiltord, the French pressed forward to snatch the winner, but Italy s solid defense stood firm. Having drawn after 120 minutes, both teams had to settle things through penalty-kicks. For the second time in the World Cup, a final would be decided through penalties. Twelve years ago, the Italians lost to Brazil on penalty-kicks; this time they seemed to be eager to redeem themselves.
With France having being deprived of its best penalty kick-takers, namely Zidane, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, things looked harder for the French, which proved to be the case. As the Italians converted their first four penalties, it was David Trezeguet of France whose penalty was missed, as the ball hit the cross bar then the ground but didn t cross the line. Then it was Italy s turn, with left-back Fabio Grosso taking the penalty and giving Italy the win and their first cup since 1982.
As for the awards given out at the World Cup, the Golden Ball was given to the best player in the tournament, Zinedine Zidane. It was a pity to see a glittering international career end on such a low note. Germany s Miroslav Klose was awarded the Golden Shoe for being the top scorer in the tournament with five goals. The best young player award, being presented for the first time, was awarded to Klose s teammate Lukas Podolski, who scored three crucial goals for the hosts throughout the tournament. Gianluigi Buffon, Italy s goal keeper, deserved to win the best goalkeeper award. As for the all-star team, which includes those players which performed impressively throughout the cup, it was World Champions Italy which featured the highest number of players, with seven in the squad, along with four French players, four Germans, four Portuguese and finally a player each from Brazil, England and Argentina. Last but not the least was the Fifa s Fair Play Award, which was shared between Brazil and Spain.
As this year s tournament concluded, the world is now looking forward in four years time to the first World Cup to be played in the Africa; South Africa will have the prestigious honor to host the most coveted cup in the world of sports.