Italy hold their nerve to claim fourth crown
THE FINAL DAY REPLAYED: Fabio Cannavaro, a player who has belied his diminutive stature with some giant performances this past month, fittingly closed the 2006 FIFA World Cup by holding the biggest prize in football aloft. Fireworks proclaiming a fourth FIFA World Cup for Italy exploded into the black skies above the Olympiastadion as the Azzurri party began, leaving France and a disconsolate Zinedine Zidane to their own thoughts.
What an occasion the 18th Final produced with excitement at the start and incredible drama at the end as Zidane, on his farewell to the game he has dignified for so long with his graceful skill, was shown the red card. On it went to a penalty showdown and five unerring Italian spot-kicks delivered them the title of world champions, with David Trezeguet the luckless player to miss. With Fabio Grosso converting, his country edged one Trophy behind Brazil in the pantheon of FIFA World Cup winners.
Zidane will remember this night for as long as he lives. France had promised to repeat their success of 1998 for their retiring captain and only he will know what possessed him when he thrust his forehead into the chest of Marco Materazzi. Zidane had to go, accompanied down the tunnel by the glare of thousands and thousands of flash bulbs and the tears of the legions of French supporters.
"Allez les Blues" they had chorused again and again. The Blues came through all right but it was the blue of Italy that held sway. France were wearing white but what colour they added to the occasion with their stirring comeback after Marcello Lippi's side had threatened to put a stranglehold on the game.
Moment of the Day
Mauro Camoranesi consoles David Trezeguet
There was irony in the failure of Trezeguet whose penalty France's second - crashed against the crossbar and refused to cross the line. It was Trezeguet who struck the Golden Goal when the sides met in the final of UEFA EURO 2000 and left a scar that Italy had waited six long years to heal.
Trezeguet's pain now mirrored that of the famed Italians, Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio, who had missed in 1994 and handed the FIFA World Cup to Brazil in the first, and hitherto only, penalty shoot-out in the Final. At the end his Juventus team-mate Mauro Camoranesi went to him and hugged him in sympathy.
What a start we had with Thierry Henry's first touch resulting in a heavy collision with Cannavaro. As he lay prostrate France wondered if their hopes were about to be stilled as well. The stretcher was called but their three-goal marksman was able to continue.
Henry's next involvement was to head on Fabien Barthez's long kick, prompting Florent Malouda to accelerate into the heart of the Italian rearguard where Materazzi brought him down. Zidane's seventh-minute penalty was nonchalant, a featherweight chip coming down off the underside bar and only just over the line.
At a stroke Zidane joined the list of players to have scored in more than one FIFA World Cup Final - a list that also includes Pele, Vava and Paul Breitner.
Player of the Day
Andrea Pirlo - such cultured skills emanating from midfield
It caused barely a ripple in Italy's assured stride. Their passes were sticking, their tackles hitting home. Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso had established command of midfield while down the right Gianluca Zambrotta and Camoranesi combined impressively.
It was Camoranesi's persistence and tight control near the touchline that forced the corner that yielded the 19th-minute equaliser. Pirlo's delivery was inch-perfect and Materazzi powered his header home.
Just at that moment the sun had reappeared from behind a cloud to throw light on Italy's spirited recovery and stoke up the temperatures inside the arena. Henry began to emerge as a key performer, seemingly impossible to shrug off the ball, and that also brought the best out of the dynamic newcomer Frank Ribery.
France came close on several occasions and in extra time Zidane would have scored with a header had Buffon not denied him. The night was soon to take an even more devastating turn for Zizou, a moment of madness ensuring that his retirement began at least nine minutes earlier than it should have done.
Goal of the Day
Fabio Grosso - such coolness under pressure
Trezeguet's miss meant that as Grosso stepped up for the long walk from the half-way line the world was in his hands. A no-nonsense left-foot strike into the right-hand corner of the net underlined the contribution the Palermo defender has made to the Italian cause this past month. After a gap of 24 years they were world champions once more.