Tuesday July 9 2019
On this day: Italy win the World Cup!

On this day in 2006, Italy beat France on penalties to win their fourth World Cup.

The Azzurri had come into the tournament under the shadow of the Calciopoli scandal, but a semi-final win over hosts Germany booked their place in the final.

CT Marcello Lippi opted for the same team which started the match in Dortmund, with Francesco Totti preferred to Alessandro Del Piero in attack.

It was a nightmare start for the Azzurri though, as referee Benito Archundia awarded Les Bleus a penalty after just six minutes.

A long ball forward was headed on by Thierry Henry, and Florent Malouda got the wrong side of Gianluca Zambrotta as he burst into the box.

Marco Materazzi raced across to cover, and though it appeared he made little or no contact the French winger hit the deck.

The referee pointed to the spot, and Zinedine Zidane kept his cool to chip a Panenka down the middle, the ball striking Gianluigi Buffon’s crossbar before crossing the line.

Materazzi soon redeemed himself though, grabbing the equaliser inside 20 minutes.

Andrea Pirlo swung in a corner from the right, and Matrix soared above the French defence to plant his header beyond Fabian Barthez.

Another Pirlo corned almost yielded a second goal, but Luca Toni’s header crashed back off the crossbar after he’d out-jumped Lilian Thuram.

Malouda once again went down in the box in the second half, this time under a challenge from Zambrotta, but Archundia waved play on.

France were in the ascendancy in the second 45 minutes, but neither side was able to muster a real goalscoring chance and the match went to extra-time.

Zidane, who had scored two headers against Brazil to win the 1998 final, thought he had once again become his nation’s hero when he got on the end of Willy Sagnol’s cross in extra-time, having started the move himself with a fine pass out wide.

Zizou was left unmarked in the box and his header was a strong one, but Buffon managed to get his right hand to the ball and claw it out from under the crossbar.

Gigi has said since that while that save may not have been the most technically difficult of his career, it was by far the most important.

In the end the French captain’s head would prove decisive, but not in the way Les Bleus would have hoped.

In the second period of extra-time, Zidane and Materazzi grappled at a corner, which was cleared by the Italian defence.

The pair exchanged words, with Matrix clearly saying something which deeply offended the Real Madrid star, who was playing in his final match.

After appearing to jog off down the pitch, Zidane turned back toward Materazzi and planted a head butt right into his chest.

The Italy centre-back lay poleaxed on the ground, but seemingly only the protagonists and Buffon had seen the incident.

The Azzurri goalkeeper ran screaming to the assistant referee, and after some deliberation Zidane was shown a red card.

French Coach Raymond Domenech appeared to suggest the decision had been given only after the officials had seen a television replay - something which wasn’t allowed in the pre-VAR age - but there was no question that the decision was the correct one.

The image of Zidane walking off the pitch in his final game, head bowed as he passes the World Cup trophy, is one of the most iconic in all of sport.

Despite the man advantage though the Italians were unable to make the breakthrough, and the final went to penalties.

The Azzurri had a rotten record in shoot-outs, and indeed had lost the final to Brazil on spot kicks 12 years earlier.

It was Pirlo, arguably the star of the tournament, who took the first kick and Il Maestro described the feeling in his autobiography.

“I lifted my eyes to the heavens and asked for help because if God exists, there’s no way he’s French,” Pirlo wrote in ‘I Think, Therefore I Play’.

“I took a long, intense breath. That breath was mine, but it could have been the manual worker who struggles to make it to the end of the month, the rich businessman, the teacher, the student, the Italian expats who never left our side during the tournament, the well-to-do Milanese signora, the hooker on the street corner. In that moment, I was all of them.”

The Milan man struck straight down the middle, Barthez dived to his right and Italy took a 1-0 lead.

A perfect kick from Sylvain Wiltord levelled things up, before Materazzi smashed his penalty into the bottom corner, Barthez failing to reach it despite guessing correctly.

Next up for Les Bleus was David Trezeguet, the man who had broken Italian hearts in the Euro 2000 final, and who was facing his Juventus teammate.

“You know him, you know him” Sky commentator Fabio Caressa implored Buffon. Trezeguet sent the Italy goalkeeper the wrong way, but his shot cannoned back off the crossbar. “NO GOAL! NO GOAL! NO GOAL!” screamed Caressa.

That piled the pressure on substitute Daniele De Rossi, who was making his return after a four match ban for an elbow on Brian McBride in the group stage.

The future Roma captain was nerveless though, blasting the ball into the top corner.

Eric Abidal went next for France, and despite going his entire career without scoring a league, European or international goal he scored.

The Azzurri still held the advantage though, and Alessandro Del Piero had the chance to give them match point.

The Juventus striker took his familiar run-up, small steps and a long approach, and sent Barthez the wrong way. If Buffon could save from Sagnol, Italy were world champions.

“Facci cantare, Buffon” said Caressa - “make us sing”.

Sagnol made no mistake though, blasting the ball into the corner. Italy would have to do it the hard way.

To take the final penalty was Fabio Grosso, the man who had won a late penalty against Australia and broken the deadlock against Germany.

Lippi reasoned that the left-back was “the man for the last minute” and so should take the final spot kick.

Perhaps feeling the pressure of a nation on his shoulders, Grosso took his time in spotting the ball.

The Palermo defender walked to the edge of the box, licked his lips briefly and stared toward the goal.

Opting for a straight run-up, Barthez assumed that the left-footer would try and open his body up and play the ball to his right.

Instead Grosso whipped it back the other way, finding the top corner.

For the fourth and so far last time, the Azzurri could were crowned as the best of the best, the top team in world football: Campione del Mondo.

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