Sunday 9 july was another perfect day in germany’s summer heatwave, and the script had been written in preparation for the climax of the french master’s glittering career. All it required was for zidane to pen the final lines and disappear into the berlin sunset with a million memories left behind him. Zidane, the inspiration for france’s world cup victory on home soil in 1998, had been the catalyst for a remarkable renaissance in germany. Raymond domenech’s squad left home with barely a hint of optimism to accompany them – a divided squad with a coterie of senior players supposedy pulling the strings for a vilified coach. A dismal opening draw with switzerland was a world away after a revival and wins against spain, brazil and portugal brought us all to berlin at the end of five glorious weeks and the meeting of france and italy. All the build-up surrounded zidane, and it appeared his sense of timing and drama was perfect when he showed nerves of steel to casually chip in a penalty to give france the lead after six minutes. Marco materazzi headed italy level before half time – and the two central characters in this drama had been cast. The early drama had long since given way to almost inevitable extra-time when the image that will be synonymous with germany’s 2006 world cup was fashioned. Zidane had almost put france ahead with a header that was brilliantly saved by gianluigi buffon and was involved in another attack. As play switched to the other end, and attention turned from right to left in berlin’s historic arena, eyes were suddenly drawn to the prone figure of materazzi. There was a mixture of disbelief, anger, and despair from those of us who could not believe zidane had been guilty of such irresponsibility with the world cup still at stake. Not only would france be robbed of his footballing and psychological influence for the last 10 minutes of a final hanging in the balance, he would also miss a potential penalty shoot out. One disbelieving french fan immediately attempted to settle scores with an innocent italian counterpart and had to be restrained. The remaining stages of the final were over-shadowed as zidane marched past the world cup and down the tunnel – past the trophy the romantics hoped he would lift. For those of us who have marveled at zidane and mocked materazzi it was almost beyond belief. How could he sacrifice a large slice of his reputation at an altercation with materazzi, provocation? France’s defeat on penalties and the italian triumph was virtually confirmed with one nod of zidane’s head. How could it end like this for zidane? The aftermath of the game was played out against the backdrop of zidane’s disgrace not italy’s win. What is the first image that comes into a neutral’s head when the 2006 world cup final is mentioned? Italy’s victory or zidane’s head-butt? For me, it is the television p icture on the screen right in front of me – and the shame of what unfolded. We came to berlin ready to accept italian victory if it came, because they had fought an excellent world cup campaign. But we also came in the hope of seeing a sporting icon crown his career with the ultimate triumph. What unfolded will be written in football and history and will stay with me forever.
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