Italy put troubles at home behind them to win the World Cup for the fourth time. Luca Cetta and Sam Lewis reflect on the triumphant German campaign.
Such was Fabio Cannavaro’s dominance in Germany, he earned the nickname ‘the Berlin Wall’. Italy conceded just two goals at the World Cup – an own goal and a penalty – and their defensive solidity became synonymous with the central defender’s role in the triumph.
By 2006, Cannavaro’s third World Cup, he had become Azzurri captain and during that month-long campaign he led the team with distinction. If there was one action to sum up Cannavaro in Germany, it was in extra-time of the semi-final against the hosts.
With Germany pouring forward in search of a late equaliser to force penalties following Fabio Grosso’s opener, the Neapolitan outjumped the much taller Per Mertesacker to clear the ball from danger. He then burst from the penalty area and dispossessed Lukas Podolski. Cannavaro surged ahead, finally leaving possession to Francesco Totti. It was the origin of Italy’s second goal, scored by Alessandro Del Piero.
He was a worthy recipient of such a nickname. When Cannavaro lost defensive partner Alessandro Nesta he soldiered on and shouldered even more responsibility. When Italy was reduced to 10 men against Australia there was still no getting past Canna and his cohorts. His heart-on-the-sleeve leadership was evident for the rest of his teammates in the Final. Cannavaro played every minute of the tournament, but was never booked. His statuesque figure during the shootout personified his cool and collected approach. And it was fitting that Cannavaro, who won his 100th cap in the Final, should lift the trophy high in the Berlin sky.
The former Juventus and Inter Coach took over the Azzurri job following a disappointing Euro 2004 campaign and qualified comfortably for the 2006 World Cup. The tournament win is arguably Lippi’s greatest coaching achievement, rallying his side around a strong team ethic and bringing a win home to a country reeling from the news of Calciopoli.
Lippi retired following the victory but returned to the national side in 2008, leading the Azzurri to the finals once again, but an over-reliance on veterans resulted in a slow and sluggish Italian side crashing out of the group stages. It signalled the end of an era for many Italian players including 37-year-old captain Fabio Cannavaro, and Lippi resigned following the exit.
The 2006 World Cup was marred by a record breaking number of cards while scoring was low. Miroslav Klose won the Golden Boot with just five strikes to his name, while no player from the winning Azzurri squad scored more than twice. There were no hat-tricks in the tournament, with no player other than Klose scoring more than three.
Meanwhile, cards were inordinately high. Notably in the ‘Battle of Nuremburg’ between the Netherlands and Portugal, where four red cards and 16 yellow cards were awarded throughout the match by referee Valentin Ivanov, who FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced: “should have yellow carded himself.”
It was a tournament noted for underhand tactics and misdemeanours – Graham Poll awarding three yellow cards to Josip Simunic in Croatia’s match against Australia, while a wink from Cristiano Ronaldo to the Portugal bench following Wayne Rooney’s dismissal in a quarter-final against England sent a nation into uproar.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s bright and energetic host Germany side were sent home in tragic style by Italy, but the most memorable image of the 2006 World Cup would be in the Final, as French captain Zinedine Zidane plunged his head into the chest of Italy’s Marco Materazzi in what would be the final act of his career. It was symbolic of a tournament that too often displayed the dark heart of football.
Despite appearing on the losing side and almost destroying his legacy as a player with his World Cup Final dismissal, Zinedine Zidane was a superlative force for France in their unlikely path to that meeting with Italy.
Announcing that he would retire following the World Cup after only coming out of international retirement at the request of French Coach Raymond Domenech in 2005, Zidane was reinstated captain and stepped up to save Les Bleus time and time again during the tournament.
The midfielder scored one and assisted another against Spain in the Round of 16 before sending a curling free-kick for Thierry Henry to score the winner against Brazil, sending France to the semi-finals. Zizou dispatched the winning spot-kick against Portugal and scored another in the Final against Italy, a delicate chip that was the only goal scored against the Azzurri by an opposition player.
Although remembered for his head-butt in the Final, France wouldn’t have made it to Berlin without Zidane’s timeless performances.
The 2006 World Cup was blessed with many eye-catching goals, notably from long range. None were better than Maxi Rodriguez’s effort in taking Argentina through to the quarter-finals. A tense affair with Mexico had entered extra-time following two early goals. Maxi was involved in winning possession inside the Albiceleste half in the 98th minute. The ball found its way to Juan Pablo Sorin on the left, whose deep, searching cross was met by a now advanced Rodriguez. The midfielder controlled the ball on his chest and fired in an unstoppable, sumptuous volley into the far corner. Argentina were into the last eight.
Italy and France were back in a decider six years after the French snatched the Euro 2000 crown out of Italy’s hands. France had started the tournament slowly, but defeated Brazil and Portugal to reach Berlin. Meanwhile, the Azzurri had won a dramatic semi-final against the host nation.
France got off to the perfect start, with Zinedine Zidane converting a controversial seventh minute penalty in his final match before retirement. Italy hit back in 12 minutes later, Marco Materazzi redeeming himself for conceding the penalty with a bullet header from Andrea Pirlo’s corner.
Both sides had chances to go ahead, notably Luca Toni’s header which hit the crossbar and Thierry Henry’s mazy run that forced a save from Gianluigi Buffon after half-time. However, 30 additional minutes would be played. Zidane ended his career in disgrace with a head-butt on Materazzi and France were shaken. David Trezeguet was the only player to miss in the shootout. Pirlo, Materazzi, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Del Piero were perfect from the spot for the Azzurri, before Fabio Grosso wrote his name in national folklore with the winning penalty.
Italy 1-1 France
(Italy win 5-3 on penalties)
Zidane pen 7 (F), Materazzi 19 (I)
Italy: Buffon; Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Materazzi, Grosso; Gattuso, Pirlo, Camoranesi (Del Piero), Perrotta (De Rossi); Totti (Iaquinta), Toni.
France: Barthez; Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal; Vieira (Diarra), Makelele, Ribery (Trezeguet), Zidane, Malouda; Henry (Wiltord).
Ref: Horacio Elizondo (Argentina)