The 2006 World Cup Final referee reveals what happened when he sent off Zinedine Zidane for headbutting Marco Materazzi.
Argentina’s Horacio Elizondo spoke to magazine The Blizzard about his experience that night in Berlin and insisted at the time he didn’t realise how iconic that red card would be.
“Obviously, after the match I realised that it had been an enormous decision, thanks to the big media reaction to it. But right now, as I’m showing him the card, no. It’s just a player on a team. It’s the same.”
There has always been controversy over that decision, as many believe the Fourth Official only alerted Elizondo after seeing the replays of the headbutt to the chest on monitors.
“It was all done over the headset. When Materazzi fell to the floor, the ball was up the other end of the pitch and of course I was keeping up with play over there. I whistle for a handball and give a free kick.
“Then play switches and goes back into the half of the pitch Materazzi was lying in, but on the other wing, and I remember it was at that point that I saw him lying on the floor. I wait to see whether he gets up — he doesn’t get up… doesn’t get up… doesn’t get up — and I stop the match.
“From where I was to where Materazzi was, was a walk of about 25, 30 metres. So immediately I ask my assistant, Darío García, “Darío, did you see anything? What happened? Why’s he on the floor?” He tells me, “I don’t know, I see him there on the floor but I didn’t see what happened.”
“Then I ask Rodolfo [Otero, the other assistant referee], who was on the other touchline, in the other half of the pitch — without much hope, because he was a long way away — and he tells me, “No, me neither.”
“And that’s where I start to think… I had a lot of doubts, clearly something had happened, but if no one saw what it was… and then Luis Medina Cantalejo’s voice appears in my headset, and he says, “Horacio, Horacio, I saw it,” he says to me. “A really violent headbutt by Zidane on Materazzi, right in the chest.”
“So obviously, when I get to the spot, I already know Zidane is on his way. I got to the spot, to where Materazzi was, and the Spaniard had already told me what I needed to know to make the decision that Zidane was going to leave the pitch.
“What I then asked [Cantalejo] was, “Why did he headbutt him?” — whether he’d seen whether Materazzi had done anything beforehand — and he replied, “No, honestly I don’t know. I just saw the headbutt.”
“And when I got there, I realised that the players didn’t know what was going on either, apart from Gianluigi Buffon who was protesting to the assistant, pressuring him, and Gennaro Gattuso, but the others saw almost nothing, just like me. And the noise in the stadium… the crowd just went silent, as if to say, “What’s going on? Why is that player lying on the floor?” And me in the middle of it, thinking, “Right then… how do I make this decision clear? Zidane’s going, he’s standing there calmly.”
“It didn’t seem very correct, to me, to just BANG! take a red card out like that, as if from nowhere, with the crowd and players all having seen that I’d been in the other half and hadn’t seen anything. So, since the headsets were only new, you can see if you watch it on video that I go over to Darío García… I went over to Darío, but I knew Darío didn’t know anything! So, why? Well, because that is understandable.
“Everyone understands if you go over to the assistant that it’s because the assistant is going to tell you something to help you make a decision. So I get to Darío, and I just say to him, “Focused!” — I say it to him and I say it to myself, to remind us both, “there are still ten minutes to go, stay focused.” — I turn around and go to Zidane and take out the red card.
“When I realised I needed to get the card out I thought, “Right then, let’s see, how can I make this easily understood?” And I say to myself, “If the assistant calls you over, everyone knows that’s because he’s going to tell you something. It was a little bit of a disguise, but it contained some truth as to how the decision was taken.”