Veni, Vidi, Vici!

Italy v France: 1-1

(5-3 after penalties)

The decisive encounter of the 2006 World Cup turned into a story of two men, heroes and villains both, who were to shape the destiny of their respective countries’ fortunes: Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi.

Act one was played out as early as the seventh minute, when Italy’s 32-year-old Inter Milan defender was adjudged to have brought down France’s Florent Malouda in the area. Zidane, one of the greatest players ever to grace the game, stepped up and fired the resulting penalty, which crossed the line, off the underside of the crossbar, for his third goal of the tournament. Only 10 minutes later, none other than previous sinner, Materazzi, rose to head home the equaliser from an Andrea Pirlo corner.

As the match ebbed and flowed into extra time, Italy gradually lost their grip on the game, handing the initiative to their French opponents. Zidane had the opportunity to further enhance his stature, sending a thunderbolt of a header towards goal, which Gianluigi Buffon, the world’s most expensive keeper, saved brilliantly. Drama of a different sort was to follow. Shortly after the teams had changed sides for the final 15 minutes, words were exchanged between Zidane and Materazzi. Suddenly, the French captain stopped in his tracks, walked towards the Italian, and felled him with a powerful head-butt to the chest. After consultation with his linesmen, the Argentine referee was left with no option but to send Zidane off in the last game of his otherwise glittering international career. It is not known what was said between the two players at the centre of the incident, and Zidane was never seen or heard of again.

Full time was reached, and a penalty shoot-out became necessary. Neither goalkeeper ever came close to saving one of the five assured strikes, but David Trezeguet had to watch in horror as his effort bounced back of the woodwork, leaving Fabio Grosso to seal Italy’s fourth World Cup win, following their previous successes in 1934, 38 and 82. In the process, the Azurri also buried their penalty hoodoo, which had seen them fail in three previous tournaments. The final act of this dramatic football opera had been played out.