The Italian team that managed only a tie against hapless Team USA in the first round beat France in overtime to win the 2006 World Cup, the team’s fourth.
The beautiful game turned vicious, even venomous Sunday. It was all still beautiful to Italy. The Azzurri outlasted France to win their fourth World Cup 5-3 in a shootout after a 1-1 draw marred by French captain Zinedine Zidane’s ejection in the 110th minute of his farewell game for a nasty head butt to the chest of Marco Materazzi.
Never masters of the penalty kick, the Italians made all five, setting off an hour of hugging, dancing and fist-pumping celebrations. “This squad showed great heart,” Genaro Gattuso said. “Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but we were hard to beat.”
They were impossible to beat and gave up only one goal actually scored by an opponent. And no, it was not pretty. Outplayed for an hour and into extra time, the Italians won it after Zidane committed the ugliest act of a tournament that set records for yellow and red cards, diving and, at times, outright brutality.
And it was the last move for Zidane, who is retiring. Asked if French soccer would miss Zidane, coach Raymond Domenech said: “Yes, well, he was missed in the last 20 minutes tonight. It weighed heavily in the outcome.” Without their leader for the shootout, the French only missed once. But Italy, rarely strong in such situations, was perfect. Fabio Grosso clinched the Azzurri’s fourth championship, and his teammates had to chase him halfway across the pitch to celebrate.
“It’s incredibly emotional, words can hardly describe it,” Grosso said. “Maybe we still don’t realize what we have achieved. We really wanted to win and in the end we made it.”
Only Brazil has more World Cups, five.
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