Italy head home with WC

Berlin, July 10 :

Italy’s joyous players were heading home with the World Cup on Monday but France captain Zinedine Zidane was named the tournament’s best player despite being sent off in the final. Germany striker Miroslav Klose won the Golden Boot for highest goalscorere with five goals.

Zidane was dismissed after headbutting Italy defender Marco Materazzi in the chest in the second period of extra-time in an extraordinary finale in the Olympic Stadium. The French midfielder, playing in the final game of his career, had scored a seventh-minute penalty but Materazzi equalised with a header 12 minutes later.

After Zidane was dismissed, the match ended 1-1 following extra-time and Italy triumphed 5-3 in a dramatic penalty shootout to win the World Cup for the fourth time.

After rolling back the years to inspire France to reach the final, 34-year-old Zidane appeared to have spoiled his chances of being voted best player after the astonishing headbutt which left Materazzi sprawling on the turf.

Zidane and Materazzi were tight-lipped about what sparked one of the most dramatic incidents in World Cup history, but the France captain appeared to have reacted to something the Italian defender said to him.

France coach Raymond Domenech put the blame squarely on Materazzi for provoking Zidane. “Something happened, that’s for sure,” Domenech said. “I can’t imagine that Zidane wanted to be sent off. Materrazzi is the man of the match... He scored and he got Zidane sent off.”

The French press found it difficult to forgive Zidane for his moment of madness, bemoaning the “cruel” fate they said had cost them victory. “The hardest thing is not to try to understand why Les Bleus lost a World Cup final match that was within reach,” sports daily L’Equipe wrote, but “to explain to tens of millions of children around the world how you allowed yourself to headbutt Marco Materazzi.” It was a “stupid” and “irreparable” gesture, L’Equipe added.

The Figaro daily wrote of “a final and odious headbutt” which had tarnished Zidane’s last match. “We were left speechless by such stupidity,” it said.

The sending-off proved enormously costly as France missed his experience in the penalty shootout. David Trezeguet hit the bar with his spot kick, while Italy scored five out of five, with Fabio Grosso slotting in the decisive penalty to send Italian fans in the stadium into wild celebrations.

In Rome, Italians erupted in a damburst of joy, firecrackers, flags and tearful embraces after the nail-biting finish. Hundreds of young people stripped to their underwear to wade into the Trevi Fountain, waving flags and splashing onlookers as ecstasy took hold of natives and tourists alike.

The delirious scenes in the capital were repeated in piazzas across Italy from Milan in the north to Messina on the island of Sicily, in the deep south.

The Italian press said the country’s first World Cup win since 1982 had been richly deserved. “The world belongs to us,” headlined La Repubblica.