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Soccer News of Sunday, 9 July 2006

Source: AFP/GHP

Ghana's Group Winners are world champs

BERLIN --- Winners of Ghana's group, Italy, won the World Cup final on penalties after a dramatic final destined to be remembered for the sensational sending off for French captain Zinedine Zidane in his farewell match.

For only the second time in the history of the tournament, the sport's greatest prize was settled by spot-kicks after both teams had finished extra-time deadlocked at 1-1.

Italy defender Fabio Grosso rifled home the Azzurri's winning penalty to clinch a 5-3 victory in the shoot-out after France substitute David Trezeguet had missed his side's second spot-kick.

It was the first time Italy had won a penalty shoot-out in four attempts and it handed Marcello Lippi's men a fourth World Cup crown to set alongside victories in 1934, 1938 and 1982.

But the penalty denouement seemed almost incidental to the amazing scenes in the second-half of extra time when Zidane was sent off for a moment of off-the-ball madness in the 109th minute.

Having played majestically throughout, Zidane blew his cool and unleashed a vicious headbutt into the chest of Marco Materazzi that sent the Italy defender crashing to the turf.

The incident was missed by referee Horacio Elizondo but Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon remonstrated furiously with the linesman and the official called over the man-in-the-middle.

After a lengthy consultation, Elizondo raced over to the middle and stunned Zidane by brandishing red.

Deafening whistles and jeers rang around the Olympic Stadium from disgusted fans who had not had the benefit of a television replay that vindicated Elizondo's decision entirely.

While Zidane appeared to be subjected to some verbal abuse from Materazzi moments before the incident, his attack on the Italian centre-half had left Elizondo with no choice.

Zidane trooped off and down the tunnel in disgust, for a disastrous, and entirely self-inflicted end to one of the greatest careers football has seen spanning 12 years and 108 caps.

The match had gone to extra-time after a pulsating 90 minutes of regulation time had finished locked 1-1, Materazzi's headed equaliser cancelling out Zidane's early penalty.

With Italy and France boasting the two meanest defences in the competition going into the match, a tightly contested encounter had been expected.

But to the delight of a 69,000-capacity crowd, both teams produced an open match of the highest quality.

France striker Thierry Henry was at his scintillating best throughout, surging relentlessly at the Italian defence in a marvelous individual performance and doing his best to upstage Zidane in his final match.

That Henry was unable to find the decisive breakthrough during a second half dominated by France was down to a doughty defensive performance by Italy's peerless captain Fabio Cannavaro, winning his 100th cap.

France had taken the lead in dramatic circumstances, when Materazzi was adjudged to have clipped Florent Malouda in the box with the game minutes old. Italy protested but Elizondo pointed to the spot.

More drama followed with the spot-kick when Zidane opted to dink his shot down the middle over Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon.

The midfield maestro's audacious effort crashed back down off the bar -- and just over the line to give France a 1-0 lead with only seven minutes gone.

Italy responded magnificently however and were soon on level terms. Andrea Pirlo floated in a corner and Materazzi made amends for his part in the penalty drama by outjumping Vieira to bury his header on 19 minutes.

The equaliser was just reward for a positive first-half performance from Italy, where Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo effectively controlled the game from central midfield.

Lightning almost struck twice nine minutes later when Materazzi again outjumped the French defence from an outswinging Pirlo corner. The Inter Milan centre-back's header was goalbound but Elizondo had spotted a foul.

With fullbacks Fabio Grosso and Gianluca Zambrotta looking dangerous going forward, the Italians continued to stretch France out wide.

On 35 minutes Thuram came to the rescue once again, getting in a last ditch tackle on Luca Toni as the Italian striker darted into the area.

France's defending from the subsequent corner was again shambolic, and they were given a huge let off when an unmarked Toni hit the bar with a header.

Yet having dominated the opening 45 minutes, Italy retreated in the second half as a rejuvenated France upped the tempo, with Henry and Franck Ribery menacing throughout.

Suddenly it was Italy on the back foot. Wonderful interplay from Henry and Ribery saw the ball swept to Zidane who released Malouda in the area.

A desperate cover tackle from Zambrotta brought the Lyon player crashing down but legitimate French appeals for a penalty were rejected by Elizondo.

Italy had a Luca Toni goal disallowed after 62 minutes while at the other end Henry beat Cannavaro with a sublime piece of skill only to see Buffon save.

Extra-time saw France go closest to breaking the deadlock when Zidane saw his glancing header palmed over the bar by Buffon.

But Zidane ensured he finished his career in disgrace as the minutes wound down and Italy held their nerve to claim the shoot-out drama.

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