Italy take the world to Eternal City | india | Hindustan Times
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Italy take the world to Eternal City

It's a pity that the incandescent brilliance of Zinedine Zidane will be forever blighted by a streak of petulance that never left him, writes Dhiman Sarkar.

india Updated: Jul 11, 2006 03:52 IST

On what looked like a white shoehorn with a table, football's biggest prize stood alone. When Fabio Cannavaro lifted it, the statuette had finally seen a battle worth its weight in gold. Pity, two hours of throbbing football hadn't broken the deadlock forced after 19 minutes.

Pity too that the incandescent brilliance of Zinedine Zidane will be forever blighted by a streak of petulance that never left him.

When Fabio Grosso sent Fabien Barthez the wrong way and broke off into a run, the parallels with 1982 which Marcello Lippi was being asked since the quarter-final in Hamburg were completed.

The Italian left-back reminded one of Marco Tardelli's scream-sprint and though it wasn't clear if he crying too, Grosso lay on the pitch for long, being arm-locked by one blue shirt after another. Monday is another day but for Sunday night, shame and scandal in Italian football won't dominate headlines.

The ghost of Pasadena has finally been exorcised and even the heartbreak of a European championship six years ago.

Nightmares of the Roberto Baggio kind could now haunt David Trezeguet, who fooled Gianluigi Buffon but couldn't beat the horizontal. Similarly denied from field play against Senegal four years ago in Seoul, Trezeguet will now be wondering what it is between him and framework, come the World Cup.

Seventy years after Vittorio Pozzo's boys won an Olympic football gold at the same stadium, Lippi ceased to be a man successful only as a club coach.

Barthez guessed right for both Marco Materazzi and Daniele de Rossi's shots but the clinical efficiency which has been the forte of Lippi's team in this tournament, resurfaced just when France were testing them with one poser after another.

Both Materazzi and De Rossi's efforts were too simply good for the French goalkeeper. It didn't matter that Buffon hadn't come close to saving any of France's kicks even though Patrick Vieira, Zidane and Thierry Henry hadn't taken any of them.

Zidane had been banished to a farewell shower much before he would have wanted and both Vieira and Henry fell to injuries.

Allowed the freedom to go wide with Florent Malouda moving into a central position, Henry ran Italy off their legs in the second half and beyond.

Sir Geoff Hurst was talking about a fitting finale for him and the Gunner seemed determined for one. In the way he charged at the Italian defence taking Mauro Camoranesi and Grosso with him and later racing into the area to meet a Frank Ribery offering, it seemed like another man had been poleaxed one minute after kick-off by a Cannavaro elbow.

Materazzi must have felt he saw a gazelle when Henry went past him before a weak stab ended safely with Buffon. Henry gave France a speed that Italy — Gianluca Zambrotta and Camoranesi in the main — found hard to combat.

His link-ups with Zidane were superb and moments before he stooped over at the end of the first 15 minutes of overtime, Henry had stolen from Gennaro Gattuso, a man with the stamina of a sherpa.

Seeing France repeatedly opening their left front through Eric Abidal, who spent a quiet first-half, Italy got Vincenzo Iaquinta to occupy him.

Totti was substituted for De Rossi, who till Sunday, was serving time for giving Brain McBride a face job. But Ribery, Zidane, Henry and Malouda still couldn't be curbed. Alou Diarra had slipped well into Vieira's shoes, Willy Sagnol too was getting bolder and France kept pushing Italy back in the way which seemed surprising after the blue shirts neutralised a penalty from a set play and were restrained only by Lillian Thuram's experience.

If Italy still stayed in the game, it was because Ribery had driven wide after cutting in from the left, which got Zidane to hold his head in agony. Buffon slapped Zidane's header over in extra-time and kept out his free-kick in the 70th minute. It was also because Cannavaro marshalled his backline like a general who was always in control. His 100th cap fetched him a World Cup as skipper, every second of his time on the park being a lesson in anticipation and agility. Three of four halves began with a player going down within one minute. The final phase also saw a sending-off with Zidane head-butting Materazzi.

The action was at the other end and having had a clear view of things, Buffon had no hesitation in doing a Cristiano Ronaldo, running up to the stretcher bearers in front of the French bench gesticulating that his central defender had been seriously hurt.

As referee Horacio Elizondo went for his back pocket after consulting an assistant, Zidane must have known what was coming. French protestations over, Zidane's armband was relayed by Sagnol to Barthez before he walked off a football pitch for one last time.