Top 10 World Cup memories: No. 3 - Italy beat France 5-4 on penalties after 1-1 in regulation time
In this special 10-part series, ESPN's Jayaditya Gupta, who has attended every World Cup since 2002, recalls his favourite matches from the tournament. At No. 3 is the 2006 final, in which Italy beat France 5-4 on penalties after the game ended 1-1 in regulation time.
It's a strange one, because what I remember most is not what I saw but what I didn't see. And, of course, the moments - minutes, hours, days even - after. I was sitting in the stands towards the end Italy were attacking; the second half of extra time began and, as we settled down, the play moved towards us. Suddenly play stopped though we couldn't tell why. The big screens stopped showing the action, as was the rule for any break in play. Something seemed to be happening midway into the other half, we could see the referee's red jersey amid a sea of French white and Italian blue. And then the flash of more red - a card. But for whom? And why? Still no clarity. Then we saw one man walking away from the others, off the pitch - and out of the game forever.
It took a while for us, for the stadium, for anyone but the handful of reporters who had the live feed on their TV screens, to figure out what was going on. Once we did, once we realised that Zinedine Zidane had been sent off in his last ever match, the rest was a blur. By the time we'd wrapped our heads around the fact, the penalty shootout was over and Italy were world champions.
The grandest sporting stage, the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, was the perfect setting for high drama. And in Zidane and Marco Materazzi it had the perfect protagonists. Materazzi and Zidane dominated the match. Perhaps it was on the cards (pardon the phrase); Zidane came into the final with two goals and three yellow cards; Materazzi with a goal and a red.
7th minute: Materazzi fouled (or was deemed to have fouled, there didn't appear to be any contact) Malouda in the seventh minute, conceding a penalty. Zidane stepped up and did his own version of the Panenka - a chip that hit the crossbar, then fell behind the goal line - so slow and graceful that Buffon, diving the wrong way, could only admire. Round 1 to Zidane.
19th minute: Pirlo's corner kick floats in from the right. Materazzi goes up, soaring above the beanpole Vieira, and bullets the ball into the net. Barthez has no chance. Round 2 to Materazzi.
The rest of the match meandered along, with a couple of shots from each side hitting the post. The players had no mysteries from each other; two of France's starting XI played for Juventus, as did the substitute Trezeguet, and Zidane was a legendary Juve alumnus. The teams cancelled each other out. Until...
110th minute: Zidane headbutts Materazzi, the rest is history. Round 3 and the World Cup to Materazzi.
The classic match-writer's dilemma: Is the story about Zidane, or is it about Italy? Requiem for the ignominious end of an all-time great, or rejoice in the new world champions, with some of the greatest Italian players ever - Del Piero, Pirlo, Buffon - in their ranks? Thankfully, my paper's deadline had passed so I didn't really have to answer that question. Of course, over time things levelled out. Zidane made a glorious comeback as coach, and a glorious exit to his first coaching stint.
A couple of days after the final I went to Paris. The mood was down but Zizou was still the people's hero. There was still no clarity on what the provocation was, who'd said what in those moments of extra time, and you could pick whichever version suited you. The French did, and in a way FIFA did, too, naming Zidane the tournament's best player. A tournament full of surprises ended with the biggest one of all.