ITALY DEFENDER Marco Materazzi has broken his silence over the verbal exchange that led to his violent World Cup final clash with French star Zinedine Zidane.
Materazzi was sent crashing to the turf by a Zidane head-butt near the end of extra-time of the July 9 final in Berlin following a verbal altercation. Mystery had surrounded the exact nature of the abuse directed at Zidane by Materazzi ever since the incident, which subsequently earned the Inter Milan centre-half a two-match ban from world governing body FIFA.
But in an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport on Tuesday, Materazzi revealed it was a remark he made about Zidane's sister that provoked the French captain's moment of madness. He said that when Zidane offered to give him his France jersey after the final whistle in response to persistent shirt-tugging by the Italian, he had replied: "I would prefer your sister."
Materazzi insisted, however, that he should not be blamed for sparking the incident. "I did not cause it," he told Gazzetta. "I answered verbally with a provocation to defend myself.
"Yes, I was tugging his shirt, but when he said to me scornfully 'If you want my shirt so much I will give it to you afterwards,' is that not a provocation? I answered that I would prefer his sister, it's true. It is not a particularly nice thing to say, I recognise that. But loads of players say worse things ... I did not even know he had a sister before all this happened," said Materazzi, who is suspended for Italy's Euro 2008 qualifying rematch with France in Paris on Wednesday.
Zidane had never specified what Materazzi said to him and had pointedly refused to apologise to his opponent.