BERLIN (AP) – The beautiful game turned vicious, even venomous Sunday.
It was all still beautiful to Italy.
The Azzurri outlasted France to win their fourth World Cup 5-3 in a shootout after a 1-1 draw marred by French captain Zinedine Zidane’s ejection in the 110th minute of his farewell game for a nasty head butt to the chest of Marco Materazzi.
Never masters of the penalty kick, the Italians made all five, setting off an hour of hugging, dancing and fist-pumping celebrations.
“This squad showed great heart,” Genaro Gattuso said. “Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but we were hard to beat.”
They were impossible to beat, and gave up only one goal actually scored by an opponent. And no, it was not pretty.
Outplayed for an hour and into extra time, the Italians won it after Zidane committed the ugliest act of a tournament that set records for yellow and red cards, diving and, at times, outright brutality.
And it was the last move for Zidane, who is retiring.
Asked if French soccer would miss Zidane, coach Raymond Domenech said:
“Yes, well, he was missed in the last 20 minutes tonight. It weighed heavily in the outcome.”
Without their leader for the shootout, the French only missed once. But Italy, rarely strong in such situations, was perfect. Fabio Grosso clinched the Azzurri’s fourth championship, and his teammates had to chase him halfway across the pitch to celebrate.
“It’s incredibly emotional, words can hardly describe it,” Grosso said. “Maybe we still don’t realize what we have achieved. We really wanted to win and in the end we made it.”
Only Brazil has more World Cups (five).
Until now, no team since the last Azzurri champions in 1982 had to endure the stress and anguish of a soccer scandal. Rather than be disrupted by the current probe ripping apart the national sport back home, the Italians survived.
“We knew that with what has happened with our soccer, a nation that has won the World Cup four times . has the strength to get back on its feet,” Gattuso said.
In the final, they outlasted France, which underwent a renaissance of its own in the last month. The French, racked by dissension, nearly went out in the first round for the second straight World Cup, then Zidane turned them around. They controlled the flow of play Sunday, only to fail to finish through 120 minutes.
Their only goal, Zidane’s penalty kick in the seventh minute, was the lone score by an Italy opponent in seven games.
But the Italians put the ball into the net 12 minutes later on Materazzi’s header off a corner kick. And then they held on in a game marked by sloppiness and maliciousness.
Rarely did Italy threaten over the final 75 minutes. But the Azzurri ignored recent history – they lost a quarterfinal shootout to France in 1998, when Les Bleus went on to their only championship.
Andrea Pirlo, Materazzi, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Del Piero all easily beat France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez in the shootout. The difference was the miss by rarely used David Trezeguet, which hit the crossbar on France’s second attempt.
When Grosso connected with his left foot, the sliver of Italian fans in the opposite corner of Olympic Stadium finally could let out their breath and screams of victory.
“We had fear of the penalties,” said Gattuso, aware that Italy lost the only other final decided in a shootout, to Brazil in 1994. “Our history was not great, so that was the fear.”
On the trophy stand, amid hugs and slaps on the back, Materazzi placed a red, white and green top hat on the Jules Rimet Trophy. Captain Fabio Cannavaro then held it high as cameras flashed everywhere. An impromptu Tarantella by the players followed as silver confetti fluttered around them.
It was, by far, the prettiest sight of the night.
“I’ve won many championships,” coach Marcello Lippi said, “but a joy so big I have never felt.”