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Unfazed Italy wins shootout after Zidane is given the boot

His clinching penalty kick having given Italy a second wind at the conclusion of a marathon World Cup final, Fabio Grosso (second from left) leads his jubilant teammates on a celebratory sprint.
His clinching penalty kick having given Italy a second wind at the conclusion of a marathon World Cup final, Fabio Grosso (second from left) leads his jubilant teammates on a celebratory sprint. (Getty Images Photo / Alex Livesey)

BERLIN -- Italy followed a proven path in this World Cup. The national team prepared for the tournament under the cloud of a match-fixing scandal, then galvanized on the way to taking a penalty-kick victory over France at Olympiastadion last night.

The Italians recovered from an early penalty kick by Zinedine Zidane, tying the score on Marco Materazzi's header off a corner kick in the 16th minute, then finished the game playing against 10 men after Zidane was ejected for head-butting Materazzi in the second period of extra time.

This was Italy's fourth Cup title, second to Brazil's five, the previous one won under similar circumstances 24 years ago in Spain, the other two in 1934 in Italy and '38 in France.

``If the scandal hadn't happened, I think we wouldn't have won the Cup," midfielder Gennaro Gattuso said. ``It has given us more strength. The squad showed great heart."

The decision of a court tribunal could be announced as soon as tomorrow regarding the possible relegation of several top clubs accused of influencing the results of Serie A games.

Though Italy's defense, led by Fabio Cannavaro and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, was airtight (surrendering two goals in seven games, none in the run of play), the Azzurri also went on the attack. Coach Marcello Lippi broke with the tradition of conservative, catenaccio tactics to protect leads, and the change paid off, though not directly in last night's match. Lippi also added young players from less-prominent teams and one of them, defender Fabio Grosso, provided the clinching penalty.

Italy played the final 24 minutes with three strikers, but could not generate many clear chances after Luca Toni hit the crossbar with a header in the 36th minute. And the French ended without Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira (both injured), and Zidane.

``Penalty kicks are a lottery," said Lippi, who compared this Italian team to the Juventus side he coached to the 1996 Champions League title. ``My players showed they were strong in character, they were skillful, clear-thinking. They took the penalties with great precision.

``Against Ajax [in the '96 Champions League], everyone was saying, `I'll shoot, I'll shoot.' [In a game] against Manchester United nobody wanted to shoot. It's not coincidence [winning on penalties]. I was thinking that in this Cup, in life in general, you get these type of gifts. We suffered in this Mondiale. We didn't have the same players on the field. This was a unique game. There was the [hit] crossbar by Toni. In this Cup, we had some fortune and some misfortune.

``We improved as the World Cup went along, after a series of results. After those games, playing against those teams, the final seemed less difficult. Our conviction increased, our enthusiasm increased, our hope increased. In the semifinals, winning that game [2-0 over Germany in Dortmund] before 70,000 people, after that we could do anything."

Italy lost to Brazil on penalties in the '94 final and to France on penalties in the '98 quarterfinals. The Italians also lost to the French (2-1) in extra time after surrendering a last-second goal in regulation in the 2000 European Championship final .

Both teams struggled to penetrate through midfield for most of the match, and both were reluctant to send their outside backs forward; both were very compact defensively and gave high-level technical performances. The result was mostly a stalemate, France depending on the individual moves of Henry, Italy sending long balls to Toni.

Italy attempted to open up its attack. Vincenzo Iaquinta entered in the 61st minute, then Alessandro Del Piero came on in the 86th . The Italians concluded regulation time with three forwards, Del Piero on the left, Iaquinta on the right, supporting Toni.

Thirty seconds into the match, Vieira gained possession and started a France advance, but Henry went down in the center circle and the ball was played out. Henry was assisted slowly off the field, a more than two-minute process, then returned 3 1/2 minutes into the match. Though France would score first, Les Bleus struggled to play the ball out of the back, and this limited the effectiveness of Zidane, whose frustration became apparent late in regulation.

The first of France's poor clears was by William Gallas, who took a long touch and surrendered possession in the fifth minute; Gianluca Zambrotta penetrated to the penalty arc but lost control and was cautioned by Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo. From the resulting free kick, Florent Malouda went through the Italian defense and was taken down for a penalty. Zidane chipped the penalty kick as Buffon dove right, the ball hitting the underside of the crossbar and bouncing out after it crossed the line , Elizondo validating the goal in the seventh minute.

Zidane became the fourth player (after Vava and Pele of Brazil and Paul Breitner of West Germany) to score in two World Cup finals. But Zidane also continued a pattern -- he was red-carded against Saudi Arabia in the '98 World Cup and suspended for head-butting an opponent in the 2000 Champions League. Materazzi is also known for his rugged play, and was ejected in Italy's 1-0 second-round win over Australia.

A Willy Sagnol cross was diverted just outside the right post for a corner seconds after the kickoff. But Italy retaliated methodically. Sagnol was cautioned in the 12th minute, and Andrea Pirlo's free kick toward Toni resulted in a corner. Four minutes later, Grosso advanced on the left wing and Lilian Thuram sent the ball out from the end line. The throw-in went to Simone Perrotta, who curled the ball to Mauro Camoranesi on the right, Italy earning a corner. This time, Pirlo's corner was headed in by Materazzi, in a similar position to when he scored in 2-0 win over the Czech Republic June 22.

France seldom was able to string together passes, and the individual advances of Frank Ribery and Zidane were covered by at least two opposing players, Italy's so-called defensive ``cage."

Toni, who scored 31 goals for Fiorentina during the Serie A season and two in the Cup, had two threats in the opening half. In the 35th minute, a throw-in was played through to Toni, whose shot was blocked by a sliding Thuram. Toni then headed Pirlo's corner off the crossbar.

France went on the offensive after the second-half kickoff, Henry's low shot after a solo move saved in the opening seconds. Henry went through Camoranesi and Grosso to earn a corner. Malouda began advancing on the left wing, and went down in the penalty area against Zambrotta in the 53d minute, this time no penalty was awarded. Zidane's half-volley was blocked by Pirlo in the 58th minute. Claude Makelele found Henry isolated on Cannavaro, Henry's shot punched away in the 63d minute.

After Daniele De Rossi and Iaquinta entered, a Pirlo free kick was headed by Toni past Fabien Barthez but was disallowed for offside . Pirlo's free kick in the 76th minute went barely wide left . In the 80th minute, Zidane appeared to injure his right shoulder after a clash with Cannavaro.

In the third minute of extra time, Malouda won a corner against Cannavaro after Zidane and Makelele combined in midfield. Ribery broke through to shoot barely wide right in the 99th minute, then was replaced by David Trezeguet. Buffon tipped Zidane's header off a Sagnol cross in the 104th minute over the crossbar .

Then, Zidane butted Materazzi, who went down near the penalty arc in the Italian end . Elizondo consulted with the fourth official and a linesman and showed Zidane the red card in the 110th minute.

While Elizondo was considering the decision, Lippi became angry, left the coach's area, and approached France coach Raymond Domenech, who was appealing for leniency. French fans among the 69,000-plus spectators began whistling every Italian possession, especially if Materazzi was involved.

``It wasn't Materazzi who called it to the attention of the referee, it was the fourth and fifth officials," Lippi said. ``It was absolutely them, the French public does not know what happened, but [today] they will know.

``I am sorry [for Zidane]. I am a great admirer of him and I am sorry it finished that way."

All five Italian penalty takers converted: Pirlo, Materazzi, De Rossi, Del Piero, and Grosso. Sylvain Wiltord fired to Buffon's left, then Trezeguet hit the bar, the ball bouncing down and out of the penalty area, Eric Abidal and Sagnol then converted.

After the clinching penalty, wild celebrations followed, Grosso running the length of the field to the corner filled with Italian fans, his teammates in pursuit. Gattuso removed his shirt and shorts and wrapped himself in an Italian flag. Massimo Oddo placed a chair on the opposite penalty spot, and the Italian team danced around it arm-in-arm. Materazzi donned an oversized hat with team colors.

``Little by little we took control and we were better than our opponents, as you could see in extra time," Domenech said. ``This is a deception, it's sad. My team was a real team and I told them after the game to retain this spirit."

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